Week 31 of Serie A saw Juventus lose just their second match of the season as their title-winning freight train ground to a halt in Naples.
It was a real shock for Antonio Conte’s side, whose only previous loss of the campaign came away at Fiorentina way back in October.
There were crucial results in the race for the top six and a place in Europe, while none of the bottom six recorded maximum points as their respective worries for their Serie A future continued.
Below is an up-to-date Serie A table, plus in-depth analysis of the week’s key matches as we enter the final stretch for the 2013/14 season.
Napoli 2-0 Juventus
Napoli ended Juventus’ 22-match unbeaten run with a stunning 2-0 victory at the Stadio San Paolo, keeping their hopes of a second-place finish very much alive.
In a first half controlled by the hosts, Gianluigi Buffon had to be in inspired form to keep his side in the match. The veteran keeper denied Jose Callejon from close range early on before making impressive saves from efforts by Marek Hamsik and Faouzi Ghoulam, but it wasn’t long before Rafa Benitez’s side found the breakthrough.
Once again a chance presented itself to Callejon, who made no mistake this time around, slotting past Buffon from Lorenzo Insigne’s cross on 37 minutes.
Callejon’s strike would have bred confidence through the Napoli side, as his presence on the scoresheet is somewhat of a good omen for the Blues, as OptaPaolo revealed via Twitter:
The laboured Juventus never really looked like forcing an equaliser, and as they grew tired in the second half, Napoli pounced to put the result beyond doubt.
With just nine minutes remaining, substitute Dries Mertens used his strength to shrug off the attention of Claudio Marchisio to fire home, leaving Buffon rooted to the spot.
As Infostrada Sports reported on Twitter, the 2-0 loss was the first time that the Serie A leaders had failed to score in 43 matches:
43 - The Serie A record for scoring in most matches in a row ends at 43 as Juventus lose 2-0 at Napoli. Juve's 2nd league defeat of season.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) March 30, 2014
Though the result is unlikely to stop Juventus’ title charge, or indeed enhance Napoli’s with them 17 points back of the Old Lady, it was a fantastic win.
Following the match, Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis said that the apparent gulf in class between the sides was non-existent, as reported by Paolo Bandini of The Guardian:
“There are not 17 points' worth of difference between us and Juventus. Give me another €150m worth of turnover each season and I will win the Scudetto 10 years running."
While it’s not quite 10 years running for Juventus, it does look like they’re going to make it three on the spin sooner rather than later.
Though Roma can cut Juventus’ lead at the top of Serie A to eight points with victory over Parma on Wednesday, they won’t catch the leaders if they maintain the level of professionalism and class that they’ve shown all season prior to Sunday’s loss.
It’s Livorno next up for Conte’s side, and though they’re scrapping for their Serie A lives and will need to give everything, they’ll likely be no match for Juventus, who must put Sunday’s result behind them and stay on course for title number 30.
Lazio 3-2 Parma
In the match of the weekend, Lazio kept up their pursuit of a Europa League place with a dramatic victory over fellow European football chasers Parma.
It was the Yellow and Blues’ second consecutive defeat, having gone 17 unbeaten prior to their midweek defeat to Juventus, as WhoScored.com tweeted ahead of their meeting with the league leaders on Wednesday:
Juventus vs Parma: These teams currently boast the longest unbeaten runs in Serie A (Juve 21 games, Parma 17) http://t.co/cRlMf6e3Wf— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 26, 2014
In a pulsating affair, Lazio took the early initiative when Senad Lulic tapped the ball home following some questionable Parma defending.
Lazio’s official Twitter feed captured the moment, as the hosts took a deserved lead against sixth-place Parma:
However, just 11 minutes later, the Eagles were caught cold as Jonathan Biabiany netted a scrappy equaliser following Antonio Cassano’s well-saved effort.
In the second half, Lazio were rewarded for their dominance as Miroslav Klose put them 2-1 up, but a calamitous Michael Ciani own goal brought the visitors level with just nine minutes remaining.
It was a cruel blow for Lazio, but they had the last laugh in the dying seconds of the match as Antonio Candreva found himself unmarked in the centre to steer the ball home and send the Stadio Olimpico into party mode.
Lazio’s win means that the race for a Europa League place is really heating up, as two points now separate the Eagles from Parma in eighth and sixth place respectively. With tough matches to come for Lazio against both Inter Milan and Napoli during their run-in, Candreva’s goal may well be crucial in their hunt for a European place, as Parma’s dip in form continues.
Elsewhere, AC Milan picked up back-to-back victories for only the second time this season with a 3-0 win over Chievo. Mario Ballotelli and Kaka (two) were on the scoresheet for the 18-time Serie A champions.
Per AC Milan’s official Twitter feed, it was former Manchester City striker Ballotelli’s 13th league goal of the season:
Meanwhile, their city rivals Inter slipped up away at struggling Livorno as the Tuscan side came from 2-0 down to claim a vital point in their bid for survival.
Roma kept up the pressure on Juventus with a 2-0 win away at Sassuolo, while there were also victories for Torino (vs. Cagliari), Verona (vs. Genoa), Atlanta (vs. Bologna) and Udinese (vs. Catania).
So, it was yet another thrilling week in Serie A, and with just seven weeks to go, the drama isn’t set to stop with European and relegation places still all to play for.