It was always going to be a close game, one that wouldn’t be a blow out victory. Juventus had one objective on Friday night, go to the San Paolo and win.
It doesn’t matter how you win, to quote the famous former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, all they wanted to do was “just win, baby.” That was their game plan, to restrict Napoli and to punish them when they could and it worked a treat. Napoli huffed and puffed but couldn’t break down the Old Lady’s door, whilst Max Allegri’s set up played out to perfection. Is this game decisive in terms of the title race? No, because a lot can happen between now and May, but tonight’s game told us a lot about both sides and what we all saw tonight has actually made this the most exciting title race in all of Europe’s top five leagues.
Napoli, a team famous for being fast on the counter and amazing to watch going forward, struggled to get through the Juve backline and had maybe one or two good chances when it mattered. The San Paolo was bouncing at the start of the game, but as soon as Gonzalo Higuain put Juve ahead (who else?), the atmosphere plummeted.
Napoli didn’t look like the Napoli we’ve enjoyed watching for the better part of a year or so, and on one hand you can criticise how they set up, maybe it was naive of them and foolish of Sarri to not change their system once they went a goal down, but quite frankly I think you’d be missing the point. The way that Allegri set Juve up tonight meant it would’ve taken one heck of a front line to beat them. And no one seems to be recognising this?
It takes a lot to smother the Napoli attack the way that Juve did tonight, maybe it was the occasion that got to Napoli but how Allegri read the game and adjusted his team tonight was typical Italian management. He didn’t “park the bus” or anything along those lines, but he played a clinical way. Juve knew they had to take their chances whenever they got them and they executed their plan to perfection when Higuain opened the scoring.
First chance, first goal and from that point on it played right into Juve’s hands. Napoli had to come out and really go for it with all the pressure on them. It was in front of their fans and it was meant to be the moment that we all took them seriously as title contenders.
Now, I’m not saying that Napoli aren’t in with a good chance for the title, but losing tonight showed that with the right plan they can be beaten. So whilst this was meant to be the coming out party for Maurizio Sarri’s side, it ended up being the night where we all realised that Juventus aren’t down and out. If anything, they’re just about to wake up and show that they mean business.