Juventus Fail to Impress Credentials Against Napoli

Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2014

Associated Press

Napoli did not look like a team that started the day 20 points behind Juventus. They broke away early, and they did not show too much respect to the champions-elect. If not for Gigi Buffon, Napoli could have buried the game after an hour. Maybe five goals. But in the end, the Partenopei held firm at their fortress. Juventus have not won at the San Paolo in more than 13 years.

But there was always a sense of pride to the match. Fans of Napoli hurled toilet paper at the bus carrying Juventus into the stadium. They lit up flares, smoke consuming the field. Napoli will most likely finish where they are, third in Serie A, but the atmosphere was festive and tense.

#Napoli fans giving #Juventus players eggs 4 breakfast & toilet paper 2 wipe before game time #SouthernHospitality pic.twitter.com/aXevGqTz1n

— Stereo Serie A Radio (@StereoSerieA) March 30, 2014

And maybe for good reason. Napoli dealt the first lost to Juventus in 23 matches in the Italian league, and Juve failed to score in Serie A for the first time this season. It was something worth celebrating.

What were the odds that Napoli's leaky defense would be the first not to concede a goal to Juve in 43 Serie A matches?

— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) March 30, 2014

Lorenzo Insigne started for a fourth straight match, and he keeps on growing. Several times he countered on the left flank, and Insigne was largely the reason why Juventus could not cope with Napoli in the opening 20 minutes. He overran Martin Caceres, and he was largely uncontainable. Then he delivered the ball for the only goal of the game, Jose Callejon tipping in his 17th goal in all competitions.

José Callejón has STILL not played for the Spanish national team. Still.

— Dominic Vieira (@dominicvieira) March 30, 2014

And it was the man who plays exactly like Insigne who scored the second—the driving pace, the tricky moves and the clever runs all the same trademark of Dries Mertens.

The absence of Carlos Tevez was painfully obvious. It was Pablo Osvaldo who replaced him in the starting lineup, and after seven games in Serie A with Juventus, Osvaldo still has not registered a shot on goal. He went for a spectacular scissor kick, but he couldn’t pull it off.

Only later in the game did Juventus really attempt to get the equalizer. It was one of their worst performances of the season.

Napoli held their shape at the back, and for a team with defensive frailties, they did not give up too many big chances. Faouzi Ghoulam, the full-back bought from St. Etienne, blocked shots and tracked up the field. He was immense, and he gives Napoli width and pace. If they have aspirations to get 100 points, Juve have to play to win the remaining seven games of the season.

In this game, Juve had no fire, no ideas. Andrea Pirlo hit the free-kicks wide—he can’t do it all the time—and Paul Pogba was far too passive again in midfield. With the league all but won, Antonio Conte has the tough task of keeping his team motivated in Serie A.

Buffon kept this game from turning into an embarrassment. He dove early in the game to save a goal and he tipped another shot over the bar. He was contorting his body to make these saves.

Napoli played this game with guts. They backed off a little, but they conceded only two shots on target, per WhoScored.com. Napoli had seven on target of their own. And so they cut the lead between them and Juve to 17 points.

Numerically, the win hardly makes a dent. But to the heart, it means so much more.