What Napoli vs. Juventus Taught Us About the Serie A Title Race
Juventus escaped the cauldron of the San Paolo with a point, despite weathering a second-half storm from Napoli.
The Partenopei started slowly, which is a concern for Walter Mazzarri considering the experience that numerous members of the squad possess.
Mazzarri might be even more concerned that it was one of his most important players who revealed the atmosphere around the side, Marek Hamsik stated in an interview on the Sky Italia broadcast as he was walking towards the tunnel at half-time that "it was normal (to be nervous) in a game of such magnitude."
The mentality was evident from the game, and Napoli lost the match in the opening few minutes when the Partenopei were caught sleeping at a corner.
Andrea Pirlo took it short, and after exchanging a one-two with Mirko Vucinic, the 33-year-old, despite a lack of pace, drifted past Valon Behrami and crossed from the byline to the back post, where Giorgio Chiellini stole a march on Miguel Britos to head home the opening goal.
It was a really sloppy goal to concede for Napolib and it quickly nullified the huge advantage of the noisy, 55,000-strong crowd.
While Napoli would grow into the game and probably edge it over eventually—with the two teams so evenly matched—the damage had already been done.
This last-chance saloon for Napoli proved to us that they were never truly contenders and that due to a lack of genuine competition for the Bianconeri, calcio enthusiasts put the Neapolitans on that pedestal in order to generate excitement.
It worked for a few weeks, but when a "title contender" draws two successive matches 0-0, at home to Sampdoria and then away to Udinese—the Friuli are a tricky proposition in fairness, having only been defeated once at home this season—in the buildup to this clash, we soon realised that it never was a title race.
With two wins in just those two games, Napoli would have entered Friday's match with Juventus two points off the top and potentially one win away from usurping the current champions, but as Hamsik so candidly revealed, exhaling deeply after a frantic 45 minutes, it was "normal" to be nervous in such games.
And that is just it, to be champions, every game is big and everybody wants to beat you, so unfortunately Napoli have not been able to keep us intrigued by the happenings at the top of Serie A.
When we dissect the squad of Napoli, it is no wonder why they have fallen short this season.
Immediately you think back to the sale of Ezequiel Lavezzi to PSG and whether El Pocho could have made enough of a difference over the course of a season to put Napoli into a title-winning position.
Goran Pandev was well-suited to his role last season as a backup, and Lorenzo Insigne has sparkled at times this season, but the young star—despite maybe exceeding expectations this season—has not come close to filling the gaping void left by the Argentine star.
Edinson Cavani has been as good as ever this season, but against the best defence in the league, that had the luxury of the returning Chiellini, Mazzarri's side's famous frantic counter attacks have not had the same punch this season without the penetration of Lavezzi.
Napoli sprung plenty of counter attacks against the Bianconeri on Friday, but it was Cavani, and Cavani alone who was looking to drag the Juventus centre-backs out of position and create space for others to dash into.
Friday's game was intriguing—when 55,000 fans show up at the San Paolo, you take notice—but not for the reasons that it was built up to be.
This was no title decider, it was merely a realisation that Juventus are the best team on the peninsula, and a second successive scudetto awaits in May.
What is the duplicate article?
Why is this article offensive?
Where is this article plagiarized from?
Why is this article poorly edited?