Gonzalo Higuain inevitably got the winner against his former club, as Juventus beat Napoli 2-1 in a tense Turin clash.
This was the Scudetto showdown last season and the rivalry only became more intense after Higuain forced through a €90m transfer to Turin. It was his first time facing these former teammates, partnering Mario Mandzukic because Paulo Dybala and Marko Pjaca were injured. Hernanes stepped in for Claudio Marchisio, who was not fit enough to start two games in three days after six months out with a torn ACL. Arkadiusz Milik and Raul Albiol were injured with Manolo Gabbiadini suspended, but Vlad Chiriches and Amadou Diawara were picked rather than Nikola Maksimovic and Jorginho.
Maurizio Sarri said he’d greet Higuain “like a son who made me angry” and that’s precisely what they did, sharing a warm embrace on the touchline before kick-off.
Napoli had lost their last five visits to Turin in Serie A, scoring one goal and conceding 12, and won a 3-2 thriller in October 2009.
Higuain’s through ball for Mandzukic was over-hit on the counter, while Jose Callejon had the ball in the net only after the offside flag had been raised.
Pepe Reina only flapped an Alex Sandro cross into the path of Stephan Lichtsteiner, but the defender ballooned his follow-up into Row Z. The tension rose, as Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro were booked in the space of two minutes, while Lorenzo Insigne wasted a good team move with a poor cross.
Higuain went clear on a through ball and his dinked finish at the near post was blocked by a desperate Chiriches tackle. Allan robbed Hernanes in midfield and his snapshot was well smothered by Gigi Buffon.
Chiellini pulled up with yet another muscular problem before the break and Max Allegri opted to replace him with Juan Cuadrado, moving to four at the back.
Napoli wanted Alex Sandro to be given a second booking for following through on Reina, an incident that sparked a row moments later over the set play.
Faouzi Ghoulam’s free kick floated over the bar. After the restart Mertens flicked on a long ball and Buffon timed the intervention well to pluck it off his head.
Juventus were practically gifted the opening goal, as Ghoulam’s terrible fresh-air clearance from a corner turned into an assist for Leonardo Bonucci to volley under the bar from 12 yards.
Napoli reacted immediately, as Insigne’s low cross for Mertens was prodded over the bar from six yards by Andrea Barzagli in a decisive interception.
The lead lasted just three minutes, as Callejon caught the Juve defence napping to spring the offside trap on an Insigne cross-field pass and kept his finish low and cool past Buffon at the far post.
The Partenopei wasted a promising counter, as Callejon’s pass back to Marek Hamsik was deflected. Insigne was extremely unhappy at being substituted for ex-Juventus winger Emanuele Giaccherini and complained as he went off.
Juventus restored their advantage and, as expected, it was Higuain who netted against his former club. A through ball was deflected off Ghoulam and Higuain rifled a left-foot daisy-cutter from just inside the box, leaving Reina rooted to the spot. Everyone wanted to know if he would celebrate and he didn’t.
Mertens blasted a left-foot effort just past the near top corner with Buffon flying across, while Reina channelled his inner Manuel Neuer to dribble as Mandzukic came sliding in.
Higuain could’ve had a second, but steered a free header off target from Cuadrado’s cross. Napoli also threatened, a deflected Omar El Kaddouri header on to the roof of the net and from the corner it ricocheted around the six-yard box until Diawara fired over. Piotr Zielinski also turned off target from distance, as Napoli's belief visibly drained from them.
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