It's a funny world, this 2012 Serie A one. If you think about it, just a few years ago no objective football fan would've predicted this situation in Italy - Juventus the most dominant team with 46 games unbeaten (possibly of all time if the record continues past January 6), Napoli the only team to really challenge them for the Scudetto, and Milan dangerously close to the relegation zone struggling to find its identity. While Milan was Italy's champion in 2011, Napoli and Juventus were two teams that were finding their way back from scandals, relegation, and financial trouble, yet today are the creme de la creme of Serie A. If you're a Bianconero, this is a beautiful world we live in. And by the way, make that 47.
Without captain Gigi Buffon and in-form striker Mirko Vucinic, Juve's Serie A fairy tale continued on Saturday with a hard-fought 2-0 dispatching of the Neapolitans after a late surge and 2 goals in 2 minutes.
While we can all thank Martin Caceres and Paul Pogba for the (beautiful) goals, the main theme of Saturday's derby was, you guessed it, Juventus' depth.
When Antonio Conte and Angelo Alessio were banned off Juve's bench at the beginning of the season, Carrera stepped up and lead the team, making crucial substitution changes like the ones in the game against Genoa to ensure Juventus' domination continued.
When Gigi Buffon went down with injury at the Azzurri training camp, Gigi Storari came in and our defense protected his goal so well he didn't need to make a single save.
When Vucinic came back from international duty with the flu, Giovinco stepped up and ran havoc on Napoli's defense.
And when our best 11 couldn't produce the winning goals against the Partenopei, substitute-coach Alessio had the presence of mind to put in Caceres and Pogba, two young, defensive-minded players who returned the favor and sealed a victory for the Bianconeri.
This summer, Beppe Marotta had two jobs - bring a quality striker to Juventus, and surround the Scudetto-winning team with more quality for the team that was to fight on 3 different fronts this year. He may have failed (miserably) in the first one, but the quality of play from the likes of Asamoah, Giovinco, Caceres, and Pogba are a testament to a job well done with the second task. 8 games into the season, we're top of the table with a 3-point gap over Napoli, leading the league in goals scored, goals conceeded, and of course, games unbeaten. Salutiamo la Capolista!
Storari: 7 - Despite playing his second Serie A game of the season against the toughest of Italian opponents, Marco handled himself extremely well and had very little to do. The closest he came to conceding was Cavani's beautiful free kick which hit the crossbar, but other than that it was smooth sailing for the best 2-keeper in Italy.
Barzagli: 7 - Played pretty far up the pitch on Saturday, providing a great link in the space between Pirlo and Lichsteiner. Was confident in his passes and was also very solid defensively throughout the game. The same Barzagli we knew last year. Makes the great seem ordinary.
Bonucci: 7.5 - This may come as a shock to some of you, but ladies and gentlemen, this is my Man of the Match. I absolutely loved Bonucci's performance against Napoli. He was very smart - something which is rare for him as you all know. Positioning-wise, stayed in the right spots and pockets for the grand majority of the game and made some key interceptions. Not only that, but seemed to have twisted his knee in the first half and still played the whole game with a badass bandage on. Oh, and yeah, had some delicious passes over Napoli's defense and stayed very composed when taking the ball out and Pirlo was marked. All that in the same week when he defends his family at gun-point by punching the thief and chasing him down the street. Did I say BADASS, already?
Chiellini: 7.5 - Captain on the day, Kaiser Giorgio's performance was absolutely dominating in defense. Cleared the ball the most (13 times), was always first to the ball, and infused a good deal of fear in Cavani and the rest of Napoli with his physical headers.
Lichtsteiner: 6 - Kwado Asamoah is an imposing player, and on Saturday asked for and got the ball plenty down the left. This left 'Steiner a bit lonesome on the right with fewer opportunities for runs and crosses. That said, the Swiss could've made more of an impact with the service he did receive. Also failed to close down Zuniga on a couple occasion when it was clear that the Colombian loved cutting in with his right foot.
Pirlo: 6.5 - Not the standard Professor-like game from the Italian Chuck Norris, but one thing was evident - Pirlo worked his ass off against Napoli. Ran a lot both on defense and in attack, and pressed very well when necessary. Very Marchisio/Vidal-like in that respect. Plus, he put the ball right on Martin's head for the opening goal.
Marchisio: 7 - He is so key to the way Juventus play. He really is the silent metronome of the team. His work-rate defensively is immense, as shown with his great track-back to clear Pandev's one-on-one with Storari. Offensively, he makes runs, takes shots on goal (though would love to see more of those), puts pressure on the other team's defense. Cassano had a very interesting statement earlier in the week that he rejected Juve 3 times cuz all they want are warriors with no creativity. To me, Marchisio is the perfect mix of both.
Vidal: 5.5 - A disappointing game for the Chilean, who caused a bit of a controversy with his red card in South America and the early trip home (though so does any football player in Italy by sneezing the wrong way). It was one of those games where you run a lot but you don't get much done, or worse, you hurt your team more than you help it. Look for him to bounce back against Nordsjaelland in midweek.
Asamoah: 7.5 - Another great game from the Ghanaian. Was a constant threat in attack and took on his man repeatedly. Really puts in perspective Lichtsteiner's inability to do so. Defensively, he was a monster and shot down anything down the left flank with his pace and physicality. Ever since day one in the Torinese bianconero colors he's proven that he is a key player for us. Really hope his injury isn't bad.
Giovinco: 8 - Most likely the actual man of match - Seba looked liberated by Mirko's absence and used his pace and technique to cause real trouble in front of Napoli's goal. He announced his presence in the match in the second minute and didn't let up for the next 88. Should've really scored from 5 meters late in the second half but his shot was just wide. Loved the confidence he showed against the fierce Neapolitans. He's getting his swagger back, now all we need is more goals.
Quagliarella: 5 - Playing against his old/favorite club, Eta Beta failed to make an impact in a very physical match. Constantly kept trying flicks over, no look passes, and fancy through balls in situations where simple football plays would've been so much more effective. That's his style though, and he certainly wasn't going to change it for the likes of Paolo Cannavaro.
Matri: 6 - Did he look a bit chubby to anyone else or was it just me? Is he spending too much time with Bendtner? Either way, he didn't really make an impact on the game coming on for Quagliarella. Had a great opportunity to do so after Pirlo's beautiful ball over the defense but his first touch let him, and all of us down.
Caceres: 7 - The Uruguayan was an unlikely choice to come on for Asamoah but he surely made the most of it and made Alessio look like an assistant-couch genius. His header was easy, but give him props for being in the right place at the right time and finishing it off with composure. If I'm not mistaken, he also took the opportunity to run over to Isla on the stands and celebrate with him. A key goal from Caceres for us, really calmed the nerves and shot us to the top of Serie A with +3 points!
Pogba: 7.5 - What a player this kid can be! He's 19 years old, comes off the bench for Juventus against Napoli and sinks in a stunning volley to close off the game. Not only that, but looked like a completely confident, late-20s midfielder that has played tiki-taka football his whole life. Would absolutely love to see more of him and am very encouraged that the coach(es) want to give him playing time this year.
Conte/Alessio: 7.5 - The formations and the layout of these two teams is so similar that there was little one could do from a coaching standpoint to come out on top. Instead, Alessio did it with his substitutions - brought on the right players at the right time for the right result. In addition, Alessio just felt a lot more in control and authoritative on the sidelines than Carrera. At least to me. Loved his celebration towards where Conte was sitting. A team united!