Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus Hold on to Extend Serie A Lead over Napoli

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2019

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) fights for the ball with Napoli's Serbian defender Nikola Maksimovic during the Italian Serie A football match between Napoli and Juventus on March 3, 2019, at the San Paolo Stadium in Naples. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A to 16 points after beating nearest rivals Napoli 2-1 on Sunday.  

Ronaldo won a free-kick that saw Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret sent off after 25 minutes. Miralem Pjanic scored the resulting set piece before Emre Can headed Juve into a 2-0 lead against 10 men at the San Paolo Stadium.

It was 10 vs. 10 when Pjanic was also dismissed two minutes after the break for a second bookable offence. Napoli got one back thanks to Jose Callejon just after the hour mark, but Lorenzo Insigne hit the post from the penalty spot late on after Alex Sandro was adjudged by VAR to have handled the ball inside the area.


Dybala's Future at Juve Going Nowhere

Paulo Dybala could be forgiven if he let out a sigh of desperation when Juve's second goal went in. It came when Can rose to meet a cross delivered by the man who had replaced Dybala in the starting XI, Federico Bernardeschi.

The fact Dybala was left on the bench for Juve's biggest game of the league campaign said one thing about the Argentina international's future in Turin. It's going nowhere.

Before the game, WhoScored.com compared Dybala to Napoli's key attacker, Insigne. The numbers offered a vivid illustration of the decline in the former's game:

WhoScored.com @WhoScored

Which Serie A star would you prefer in your starting XI this season? 🔁 Lorenzo Insigne ❤️ Paulo Dybala Full match preview -- https://t.co/ajaheWqzlJ https://t.co/stJ3T0Eo0X

Those numbers won't have improved after all Dybala managed to do with a six-minute cameo off the substitutes bench was to get booked.

Dybala's increasingly troubled relationship with manager Massimiliano Allegri has seen him frozen out of several games this season. He hasn't helped his cause by chaffing in a new position on the right side.

While it's been an uncomfortable fit for Dybala, Bernardeschi took to the role on the wing with relish. His pace caused Napoli more than a few problems, while he was rarely shy about aiming crosses toward Ronaldo and target man Mario Mandzukic.

Bernardeschi's performance aside, it's an ominous sign for Dybala that Allegri was prepared to negotiate such a challenging fixture without the elegant South American. Even when playing against 10 men for close to half an hour, Allegri still didn't feel he needed Dybala's brand of flair and vision to exploit any gaps within Napoli's depleted ranks.

Allegri remains unconvinced of Dybala's worth.
Allegri remains unconvinced of Dybala's worth.ALBERTO PIZZOLI/Getty Images

Given how much Juve's pedestrian midfield struggled to create chances, Allegri needed a player who would add guile between the lines. It's looking increasingly like Dybala is never going to be that player as long as the 51-year-old remains in charge.


What's Next?

Juve are next in action Friday, March 8, when they host Udinese at the Allianz Stadium. Meanwhile, Napoli will play a day earlier when they host Red Bull Salzburg in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 16.