Thursday, May 23, 2024

Napoli 2-1 Juventus: Talking points as Napoli all but end Juventus Scudetto aspirations

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial, Serie A 4 Mar 2024

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Napoli beat Juventus at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday in the 27th round of the Serie A season by 2-1.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia opened the scoring for the home side with a fine volley in the 42nd minute, and when Federico Chiesa restored parity in the 81st, it seemed the Old Lady would return to Turin with a point. However, a reckless tackle from Juventus substitute Joseph Nonge on Victor Osimhen resulted in a penalty for Napoli, and after Wojciech Szczesny saved the Nigerian’s spot-kick, Giacomo Raspadori was the quickest to react and win the game for his team.

The game

Napoli mostly dominated and kept the ball in the opposition half from the start, finishing the game with 71% of possession, but in the first period of the contest they were actually lucky not to go down on several occasions as Juventus created more in front of Alex Meret’s goal.

Luck particularly served Francesco Calzona’s team in the 10th minute, when Mathias Olivera lost the ball in his own half and Chiesa found Dusan Vlahovic completely unmarked at some 10 yards from the goal – the Serbian’s header went inches wide of the post, with Meret unable to do anything but watch.

The first real sign of danger at the other end took another 14 minutes, when Mateo Politano broke down the right and whipped in a cross. A mishit from Hamed Traore fell rather kindly for Giovanni Di Lorenzo, but the Napoli captain couldn’t find the target with a half-volley from 13 or 14 yards. In the 27th minute, Szczesny fumbled a Politano free-kick at the feet of Frank Zambo Anguissa, but the Juventus goalkeeper recovered in time to prevent the Napoli midfielder from tapping in.

Much like Di Lorenzo at the other end, Illing Junior missed the target with a half-volley four minutes later for Juventus. In the 34th minute, Juventus broke through the Napoli lines far too easily and Chiesa created another great chance for Vlahovic, whose clever chip over Meret hit the post. Another four minutes later, Kvaratskhelia tested Szczesny from a tight angle, but Szczesny was up to the task.

And then it finally happened. Napoli attacked down the right and Di Lorenzo sent in a cross, poorly cleared by Gleison Bremer, that fell nicely for Kvaratskhelia on the left. The Georgian winger smacked it first-time, hitting the near corner and not giving Szczesny enough time to close the angle down. The shot even caught a slight deflection off Andrea Cambiaso, making it even harder for the Poland international to do anything about it.

With nothing to lose, Juventus entered the second half with more attacking intent, and in the 52nd minute, Cambiaso had a chance to equalize but missed the target. The chance was mostly the result of excellent work from Chiesa, and by that time the former Fiorentina winger had imposed himself as the visitors’ main man on the pitch. It had become clear that if anything was to come from the Bianconeri, he would be directly involved.

And in the 81st minute, Chiesa burst in off the right wing, played a one-two with Carlos Alcaraz, and as the Napoli defence withdrew step by step in front, he made great use of the space they left him and whacked low into the far bottom corner, beating Meret and setting the score back level.

But it took only four minutes more for things to unravel for Massimiliano Allegri’s team once more. Napoli attacked and Osimhen got the ball inside the box, and under pressure from three opponents, he went down, too easily as it looked at first. Referee Maurizio Mariani waved the penalty claim away, but at a word from the VAR room, he reviewed the situation and changed his decision, booking Nonge for stamping on Osimhen’s ankle. Looking at it from different angles, the final decision was certainly the right one.

Szczesny guessed right and saved Osimhen’s shot, but Raspadori then converted from close range.

The Nonge disaster

There can be no doubt that Nonge’s reckless move utterly ruined all the good work Juventus had previously done to get back to level terms, but Allegri’s man-management skills might be questioned here.

Nonge, yet to turn 19, was introduced to replace Fabio Miretti with 15 minutes left on the clock. Following the penalty conundrum and Raspadori’s goal, Allegri saw fit to withdraw the teenager in favour of 32-year-old Danilo, compounding his evening of misery further.

It remains to be seen what effect Allegri’s move will have on the youngster, but it feels quite safe to say it won’t help his confidence or ability to move on from this mistake. The experienced tactician may have believed Danilo, a defender, would somehow help his team in search of another equalizer over the few remaining minutes, but if so, it’s not very easy to understand his intention. It feels far more likely Allegri pulled out Nonge as a some sort of precaution against another blunder, but the 18-year-old will surely feel it as a slap on the face in an already difficult moment.

The aftermath

This was obviously a huge victory for Napoli and their efforts to return to the fight for Champions League places towards the end of the season. Sitting seventh with 43 points and an eight-point deficit to fourth-place Bologna, they clearly have a lot of work to do still, though they might be helped by the new format of UEFA’s elite club competition in 2024/25, which may allow five Italian teams to enter the group stage. However, AS Roma (47 points), Atalanta (46) and Fiorentina (42) will also have something to say in this matter.

As for Juventus, they’ve probably stopped even dreaming about the Scudetto by now. Their defeat at the Maradona has put Inter Milan in a position to potentially increase their lead at the top of the table to 15 points, if they beat Genoa at the San Siro on Monday evening. And let’s face it, the Nerazzurri are heavily tipped to do so. There may still be 11 rounds left to play after that, but it’s obviously very hard to imagine any team, let alone the high-flying one of Simone Inzaghi’s, dropping such a lead between now and the end of May.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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