Juventus stepped on the accelerator in the second half and swept Napoli aside 3-0 to take themselves within two points of leaders Milan.
This has always been a huge battle in Serie A, but this time they were going head-to-head for Champions League places. Juve needed to take advantage of Milan’s slip-up to close the gap at the top of the table, while Napoli had to do the same after Lazio and Udinese were beaten in the race for third this weekend.
Both sides essentially had full squads to choose from and Antonio Conte mirrored their 3-5-2 system with Stephan Lichtsteiner returning from suspension as a wing-back. Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic were picked in attack, hoping to make the most of Napoli’s weakness at defending in the air. Christian Maggio returned from injury to start with the Three Tenors.
Andrea Pirlo’s cross to the back post from the left flashed across the face of goal, but Borriello only glanced the header wide from under six yards. Another Borriello header was well off target from Lichtsteiner’s cross.
The first Napoli chance was on 13 minutes, but Marek Hamsik’s touch let him down when going past Gigi Buffon and gave away a goal kick.
A Pirlo free kick sailed over the bar from distance, but at the other end Leonardo Bonucci was at full stretch to intercept a dangerous Camilo Zuniga cross into the six-yard box. Bad news for Napoli, as Maggio’s comeback lasted only 25 minutes before he limped off again in favour of Andrea Dossena.
Arturo Vidal’s glancing header flicked a Pirlo free kick across the face of goal to skim the far post. Hamsik blasted over the bar from distance and the tension got to Lichtsteiner, who was booked for dissent.
The first actual shot on target was a Pirlo free kick that Morgan De Sanctis rather comfortably smothered at the near post. Vidal picked up a yellow card for going straight through Hamsik outside the box, but Lavezzi curled the free kick over the bar.
Dossena charged down a Vidal volley in the area, but Juve went closer on 44 minutes when De Sanctis got down to palm a curling Pirlo free kick out for a corner at the base of the near post.
After the restart Napoli risked an own goal, as Hugo Campagnaro’s header to clear a Pirlo free kick was palmed off the line by De Sanctis.
Juventus were piling on the pressure at the dawn of the second half and broke the deadlock from a Pirlo free kick that ricocheted around the box until Mirko Vucinic’s strike from 12 yards appeared to take a deflection off Leonardo Bonucci to wrong-foot De Sanctis. However, after numerous replays the Lega Serie A handed the goal to Vucinic, as any deflection was likely off Paolo Cannavaro rather than Bonucci, despite the defender trying to claim the goal.
Vucinic did get the ball in the net soon after, but was flagged offside in a very tight decision. Goran Pandev replaced Gokhan Inler, moving Hamsik into a deeper role. Fabio Quagliarella replaced the disappointing Borriello to face his former club.
De Sanctis parried a long-range Claudio Marchisio strike to spark a Pandev counter, when Marchisio brought him down for a yellow card.
Juve doubled their lead with a sensational solo effort from Vidal, who confused Campagnaro with a series of step-overs and smashed it across De Sanctis into the far top corner of the net.
It was almost 3-0 moments later, as Vucinic spotted the Napoli goalkeeper off his line and attempted an audacious lob that was just wide.
Cavani’s long-range daisy-cutter was off target, while Martin Caceres tested De Sanctis at the near post.
Quagliarella got a third and refused to celebrate against his hometown club. Alessandro Del Piero created an assist with practically his first touch, rolling across to Quagliarella for a powerful strike between De Sanctis and the near post.
More bad news for Napoli, as Zuniga was sent off for lashing out with an elbow to free himself from Giorgio Chiellini’s embrace. It was right in front of the linesman, who could not fail to see the gesture.
Del Piero aimed a couple of efforts off target with solo runs, then a third attempt was well beaten away by De Sanctis.
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Sent off: Zuniga 86 (N)