Juventus XI: Szczesny, Cuadrado, Rugani, De Ligt, Sandro, Locatelli, Mckennie, Rabiot, Bernadeschi, Morata, Chiesa
Napoli XI: Ospina, Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Ghoulam, Lobotka, Demme, Politano, Zielinski, Insigne, Mertens
Juventus: 1 Napoli: 1
Problems were starting to erupt for the Vesuviani in their return to action r. Although they saw the return of the sadly-departing talisman Insigne, the team was still missing key players in all areas of the pitch through Covid, injuries, suspensions and the African cup of nations. The subs bench was filled with youth players who, if subbed on, would be making their league debut. The players weren’t the only ones suffering, their form had also taken a nosedive losing 3 of their last 5 in the league.
Their top 4 rivals Juventus however, seemed to be on the up. After a very rocky start, the club seemed to have found its feet just before the winter break winning 4 and drawing 1 . They did miss their veteran cb pair of Chiellini and Bonucci but still boasted their ace in the hole, Federico Chiesa.
For years these two teams had been battling for the top spot in a 1-sided rivalry, but even for lower positions, the match teased to be entertaining.
Alarm bells started to ring in the opening 5 minutes for Napoli. The energetic Chiesa found himself worryingly free just outside the box only to fire a shot that deflected wide. The following corner resulted in a free header that seemed a clear chance but it flew just wide.
Juventus were much more lively, with multiple incisive passes down the wings carving the makeshift defense like a turkey on christmas.
Insigne’s long range opportunity which fired over was Napoli’s first attempt. It wasn’t the most threatening, but it showed Napoli could threaten.
They proved it again with some clever one-touch passing in the opposition box but Politano took too much time to get the shot away.
Chiesa on the other hand was firing at will, spraying the Napoli goal with all kinds of shots, the latest of which was drilled just wide of the post after dribbling through Napoli’s defense.
It was the away side who would get the first goal however. Insigne received the ball in the middle of the Juventus half. Curled the ball into the running Politano who took the ball in the 18 yard box, made space, and layed the ball to the overlapping Mertens who drilled a shot into the left hand corner past Szczsney.
Despite the setback, Juventus wouldn’t be deterred from their attacking style of play, heaping on the pressure continuing to get the ball into threatening situations.
The game was open and exciting, perhaps as both teams were depleted in defense they game plan was to simply score more than the other team.
Insigne epitomised this play when he received the ball with acres around him, the playmaker was able to draw in the defense for a lay off for Zielinski on the edge of the box. The Pole fired the shot and it took a strong arm from his compatriot to keep out.
After a spell of Juventus pressure, Napoli broke with Insigne by himself in the Juventus half. His pass to Politano was illegally halted by Sandro which gave Napoli a free kick just outside the box. Mertens’ free-kick curled just around the right post.
Juventus continued their pressure after the restart, the first chance was a ricocheting cross which fell to Chiesa who fired into Ghoulam. The Algerian was playing well for his first start since last March.
Juventus’s prayers were answered in Chiesa. The young Italian took the ball on the edge of the box, and with help from a heavy deflection off Lobotka rolled the ball past the sprawling Insigne into the back of the net.
Napoli seemed on the ropes now, struggling to cope with Juve and Chiesa’s intensity. A one touch move found Cuadrado in the box who’s shot fired back into the box, which the away side were able to clear.
Napoli had the next clear chance, Mertens cut in on the left and tried to catch the keeper out but Szczesny managed to save.
The unstoppable Chiesa caught hold of a strike which took a smart save from Ospina to keep out. The deflection fell to Mckennie who fired from range, which flew just wide.
The chances continued to come for both sides, Mertens found himself through on the left due to a lucky deflection. His low shot required quick reflexes to prevent him from scoring.
Around the 65th minute, Allegri decided to flex his side’s depth by bringing on Dybala. The Argentine immediately stole the ball in the Napoli half and fired a bouncing shot at the Napoli ball. Ospina got down sharply to deny him.
The game continued at a breakneck pace, both teams were intent on winning. It was impossible to see who would blink first. Napoli still looked in the game but, without any realistic subs on the bench. Their starting squad would soon tire from the insane demands of this match.
The game started to slow down until the 81st minute, an inswinging free kick from Ghoulam bounced around the box until Juve countered, taking the ball to the Napoli by-line. A searching cross from Dybala just missed the Juventus attackers to go out of play.
Substitute keane seemed to have the clearest opportunity of the the final minutes. A clever cross from Cuadrado fell directly to Keane in the 6 yard box who headed the ball over.
That would be the final big chance of the game. For what some were forecasting as dire times. Napoli put in an amazing effort despite all their setbacks and remained unbeaten against Juve for this season. Next stop Sampdoria.