Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens have blown the Scudetto race open by beating Juventus 2-0 in a San Paolo firecracker.
The Bianconeri suffered only their second Serie A defeat of the season, the other being a 4-2 at Fiorentina in October. It is also the first time they have failed to score this season. Roma are now 11 points adrift, but with a game in hand against Parma to be played on Wednesday.
This has always been a huge fixture in Serie A and also in Serie B, as both clubs were promoted together in the 2006-07 campaign. Going into the San Paolo there were 20 points separating first from third, but Capocannoniere Carlos Tevez was suspended with Andrea Barzagli, Angelo Ogbonna, Federico Peluso, Fabio Quagliarella and Simone Pepe sidelined. The Partenopei missed Christian Maggio, Juan Camilo Zuniga and Rafael Cabral, but Faouzi Ghoulam returned from suspension.
Bad news straight away for Juve, as Arturo Vidal started limping after 90 seconds and then fell to the ground pointing to his right knee. Replays suggest it seemed to buckle under him after a pass, but he continued after a few minutes of treatment.
Gigi Buffon needed a stunning save from point-blank range when a wayward effort was redirected by Jose Callejon. From the resulting corner Buffon parried and Marek Hamsik had the ball in the net, but was correctly flagged offside.
Buffon was called into action again on nine minutes, flying to flap Hamsik’s first-time shot out from under the bar from seven yards.
Napoli were dominating the early play and pinning Juve back into their own half. The first Bianconeri opportunity came after 25 minutes, as Fernando Llorente struggled to turn so Stephan Lichtsteiner fired straight at Pepe Reina.
Insigne was very lively and his pull-back flashed across the face of goal, behind Kwadwo Asamoah and Higuain to find Callejon, whose effort stung Buffon’s gloves.
Llorente just failed to get his head to a Lichtsteiner cross, held off by Paulo Henrique, but Napoli finally found their breakthrough.
Callejon got round the back of Asamoah on the very edge of the offside trap to come sliding in and volleyed Insigne’s floated cross from the left. It was an extremely close decision, as his head appeared to be offside by a matter of inches.
Daniel Osvaldo turned an overhead kick off target and in first half stoppages Higuain fell under Chiellini pressure, but seemed to lose his balance and the referee waved play on.
Juventus seemed more aggressive after the restart and Reina smothered a Lichtsteiner effort, but Buffon again came to the rescue by fingertipping Ghoulam’s free kick on to the crossbar.
Mirko Vucinic was the final substitution in place of an unhappy Osvaldo and immediately curled off target. The visitors were having a lot more possession in the second half and Vucinic knocked down a cross for Claudio Marchisio, but it was just over his head.
Ghoulam needed a well-timed sliding tackle to block Isla as he was pulling the trigger inside the penalty area.
Juve were dominating now and Hamsik sprung the offside trap from a Pandev slide-rule pass only to scuff his finish at Buffon.
Dries Mertens came off the bench and scored with a classic route one game. It was a Reina long throw from a corner, Pandev’s cross-field pass and Mertens held off Marchisio to smash an angled drive across Buffon into the far bottom corner. The Belgium international had only been on the field for a couple of minutes.
There were six minutes of stoppages, mainly due to a pause for bottles being thrown while Pirlo was trying to take a corner. Reina rushed off his line to anticipate Vidal, while Insigne set up Mertens to balloon over. Vidal was booked for simulation when he dragged his foot looking for Blerim Dzemaili’s leg in the box and did not protest the decision.
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