When it comes to Juventus' 1-all draw with Napoli on Friday night, it really comes down to three things. Common things, really. Kinda like one of those choose your own adventure books that you might have read as a kid.
So, I present you with the three paths of Juventus-Napoli, round 27 of the 2012-13 Serie A season:
1) What could have been.
2) What should have been.
3) And what actually happened.
What could have been was the fact that Juventus could have scored three goals in the first half and put the game to bed just 45 minutes after it started. What could have happened was Juventus giving up a go-ahead goal after Napoli completely took over in the second half. And if it wasn't for Gianluigi Buffon being his usual Superman self, that probably would have happened. But since that's not one of the three above choices, we'll move on.
What should have been was Mirko Vucinic putting away his clear one-on-one chance with Morgan De Sanctis, giving Juve a 2-0 lead just 18 minutes into the match. What should have happened was Edinson Cavani getting sent off for an elbow to Giorgio Chiellini's face just moments before the halftime whistle. That, in turn, would have likely thrown Napoli for a complete loop if their star striker was sent off while they were looking a 2-0 lead — if Vucinic actually did what he's paid to do — right square in the face.
What actually happened was that Juventus withstood the second-half charge from their lone Scudetto challengers and walked out of the San Paolo with the six-point difference still intact. It was a thrilling first 45 minutes filled with goals, hair-pulling, King Kong celebrations, and elbows being thrown — but obviously not in that order. The second half was a completely different story, as Napoli went all out for a game-winner. But Buffon was Buffon and things remained all square despite a number of Juventini complaining of chest pains. (That may or may not be true.)
A good point. A productive point (if that's even a thing). Regardless or what could or should have happened, Juventus left Naples with the same lead they arrived with. And as the calendar flips over to March, keeping a sizable lead atop Serie A is nothing to complain about.
Buffon: 7 - Just as solid as ever even with the heavy workload in the second half. It's somewhat of a rare sight to see San Gigi have a busy game these days. But he more than answering the call, making a number of key saves in the second half when Napoli were making their push to try and go ahead.
Barzagli: 6 - It wasn't as spectacular as he's been in recent week, but Barzagli was solid all night. Even made a tackle while he was stumbling — and subsequently going head over heals in front of Buffon — in the first half. I guess stuff like that truly takes talent.
Bonucci: 6 - To steal a line from the game time thread, how can a defender be so good like Bonucci is yet deflect so many shots? That "header" that thew of Buffon on Inler's goal was the only blemish on what was basically a mistake-free night from a guy who struggled mightily the last time Juventus visited the San Paolo.
Chiellini: 8 - That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you return to the starting lineup. Chiellini scored a fantastic header, one with power and accuracy. Extra half-point for taking the Cavani elbow to the face like a champ and playing through the obvious pain that comes along with it. Although, knowing how Chiellini plays, that was probably welcome. Just a guess. And this was a guy who hadn't started in a couple of months? What a monster.
Lichtsteiner: 6 - When this guy looks gassed after 60 minutes, then you know he's already worked his tail off. His crossing was actually somewhat decent against Napoli — something we weren't able to type the past couple of weeks. Regardless, to see him play at a decent level while he was running on empty and Napoli tried to find a second goal was huge.
Vidal: 6.5 - Getting a rest against Siena seemed to do King Arturo some good. It wasn't a commanding showing like he's had in the past after returning to the lineup, but he still did well all things considered. The only thing missing was any sort of threats on the offensive side of things. But when it came to defense, Vidal was sound and effective.
Pirlo: 7 - Ho-hum. Just another day where the bearded wonder completes 87 percent of his passes and tacks up an assist, right? Well, maybe it's not that simple. Pirlo's assist was superb — especially when you consider it was with his left foot, with a man right in his grill and then put an absolute dime that found Chiellini's dome. Just another day at the office I suppose.
Marchisio: 6 - Il Principino did a lot of the stuff that doesn't really go appreciated during the course of a game because a good number of people don't really see it. There weren't the dashing runs forward like normal, but those were supplanted by endless running and work on the defensive end. And his six tackles only support that.
Peluso: 6.5 - I wasn't all that kind to Peluso in the match preview, but he played quite well in a game where he was even surprised to play from the opening whistle. And if you need further confirmation of that, go to WhoScored and look at who had twice as many tackles as Arturo Vidal. Yep, it's Federico Peluso.
Giovinco: 6 - As the match went on, it seemed like there were two distinct camps as to how Seba was doing — he was either having a good showing, or he absolutely sucked. When it comes to my opinion of his game, I'm more former than latter. No, he didn't score a goal (the only thing that seems to get people off his back), but his was a threat more often than not when he had the ball. And that's certainly more than we can say about his striker partner.
Vucinic: 5 - To answer my own question of whether or not Big Game Mirko would get off the bus, the answer is a resounding "NO." For the second consecutive game against a rival, Vucinic really didn't do much of anything. Well, unless you count completely botching goal-scoring opportunities as legitimate contributions.
Matri: 5.5 - Not only should Matri have come on earlier, but also for Vucinic and not Giovinco. He had a very good chance to put a shot on frame almost immediately after coming on, but hit the volley wide. Other than that, Juventus didn't see enough of the ball for Matri to make that much of an impact.
Pogba: s/v - Another player who should have come on sooner, but obviously didn't.
Padoin: s/v - Last-minute sub brought on simply to basically delay the inevitable.
Conte: 6 - The major gripe I have is why it took so dang long to make a change when it was completely clear to every person watching that Juve needed fresh legs on the field. Some players, like Marchisio and Licthsteiner, were running all night, but only one of those players actually was removed before the final whistle blew. If Conte was to roll with the troops who got him there, I can understand it. But if they aren't doing so hot, he can't be afraid to take a shot and make a change. Juve needed such changes Friday night — and Conte waited far too long to pull the trigger.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
1. First, I present you all with this:
Vucinic was poor against Roma too. Contes starting to revert to last season in picking him regardless of form. Opposite of Quags.— Aaron Giambattista (@agiamba) March 1, 2013
I get playing somebody when you have faith in them, but when it comes to Vucinic, it seems like it's an extreme. No matter what his form is, he's almost always in the starting lineup. And when it was clear that Friday night wasn't his night, it took 85 minutes for Conte to remove Vucinic from the game. Either Vucinic isn't on top form or needs a break. I'm not betting on said rest coming against Celtic, but maybe it should next weekend. And last time I checked, wasn't Alessandro Matri playing quite well? Yeah, play that guy.
2. So, I guess the cool thing to do in Napoli when you aren't robbing your own players at gunpoint is to pelt opposiing buses with rocks. Nice town you've put together there, Naples. A real classy bunch.
3. In case you were wondering how Kwadwo Asamoah was doing after his pre-match bus troubles, here you go.
Hi guys! For everyone asking I'm fine thank God. Happy to get out Safe and with 1point from the game. Happy weekend #KASA— Kwadwo Asamoah (@Asabob20) March 2, 2013
3. The Sebastian Giovinco talk won't go away — and it won't until he's scoring goals on a game-to-game basis. Or that's at least what he'll have to do to make people calm down about him and his standing at the club. I've said in the past that people need to be patient when it comes to Giovinco, and I'm still feeling that way. He had a productive night against Napoli and could very well play against Celtic mid-week if Conte feels like standing pat with his lineup. And to be quite honest, I'd rather see Giovinco in the lineup than Vucinic.