About. Freaking Time.
That's all I could think of as I watched Juventus unravel at the San Paolo in Naples and get outplayed by a fierce Napoli team hungry for a victory.
Even the most optimistic of Juventus supporters had realized our team's troubles way before the 22-game unbeaten streak ended on Sunday. In recent games, we were getting the wins and points, but overall Juventus was on decline. Antonio Conte's team was just not performing at a high level anymore, and against Napoli it finally caught up with them in the worst way possible.
That's just a straight up fact. Now, were there reasons for that other than just "well our player played like crap?" Of course, and it rarely is that simple when it comes to these things. On Sunday, however, the prevailing reason why Juventus got smacked across the face by the Neapolitans was that, well, our players played like crap and the opposing players didn't.
Sure, injuries, squad rotation, fatigue, hostile environment...these are all factors that played a part as well. But hiding behind them would be a mistake for a team that aims high and is going places this season. A wake up call was needed, just like the one against Fiorentina in the first part of the season, and if the reaction is similar from our Juventini, the trophy cabinet will need expansion at the end of the year. If not, well, we'll have a lot to vent about this summer.
Napoli's attacking 4-2-3-1, if executed well, was always going to give Conte's 3-5-2 a lot of problems. With great players attacking on the wings like Insigne and Callejon, Napoli took full advantage of the setup and poured men forward toward our struggling defense.
Buffon, who saw Caceres, Bonucci, and Chiellini in front of him, had to make tons of saves early on to keep the scoresheet tied at zero. As Napoli not only attacked ferociously (which they are used to doing on the counter these past few years) but also kept possession, Juventus had very little to do other than defend for the majority of the first 45 minutes.
Following some amazing saves by Buffon, the breaking goal finally came on 37 minutes after a beautiful Insigne pass over our defense found Callejon slipping behind Asamoah for the point blank divert towards goal. There were claims for a possible offside on Callejon, but I've always claimed those calls to be impossible to make 100% correctly for referees and I stand by that on this one as well, as much as it pains me.
The reeling Juventus had a mountain to climb to get back in this game. Conte's half time speeches have proved decisive in the past, and Juventus did come out the gates in the second 45 minutes playing better possession football. Unfortunately, the leader of our team in attack, Carlitos Tevez, was suspended and his presence was visibly missed in turning around any deficit. With Napoli doing a great job pressuring Pirlo pre- and in-possession, it proved a deadly combination against our attacking efforts.
As Juventus tried to gain control over the game and pushed for an equalizer, they were left at the mercy of incisive counter attacking - something the Partenopei do best. After a fruitless second half, a quick outlet pass by Reina found my countryman Pandev, who lobbed a pass to Mertens deep in Juventus' half. The newly introduced Belgian did brilliantly to fend off Marchisio and with a shot across the net sealed the game for Napoli.
Buffon: 7.5 - Gigi has truly been Superman lately and despite the loss on Sunday, his performance was just as positive. Just imagine the scoreline if he weren't between the sticks for Juventus. Yeah, scary thought right?
Caceres: 6 - Insigne was a nightmare to cover for him all night. Tough task for Martin which he did not handle all that well.
Bonucci: 6.5 - Thought he was the best of the three defenders on the night, though I'm not sure how much that means in a game like this. He was focused and ready to make tough challenges in tough situations. Often caught out of position though - the movement of Higuain and Hamsik gave him problems far too often.
Chiellini: 6 - While he put in a typically fiery performance, it wasn't of the caliber we usually expect. Left way too many gaps open and too many shots on goal came from his part of the pitch.
Lichtsteiner: 6.5 - Showed his versatility by handling himself well on the left flank after Isla subbed in. Had to defend a lot due to the nature of the game but was always up for a sprint in attack to try and make something happen.
Vidal: 5.5 - Arturo's struggles continued in Naples with another ineffective performance. He made no difference on the pitch and was shamefully booked for a dive at the end of the game, for which he'll now sit out the next game due to suspension. We needed Vidal on Sunday, but unfortunately he did not show.
Pirlo: 6.5 - There were no free kick heroics from Pirlo, but he at least had a decent second half. In the first, he struggled maintaining possession against Napoli's pressing and marking, but in the second he was able to really spread our play in different areas of the pitch.
Pogba: 6 - After an invisible first half, he was rightfully subbed out after just 60 minutes. There were a couple bright attempts here and there from him but it was difficult for him to do anything special when the whole team was getting so outplayed.
Asamoah: 6 - Callejon gave him hell the whole time Asa was on the pitch and he paid the price by giving away a goal with his slow marking.
Osvaldo: 5.5 - It is continuously obvious that the partnership of Osvaldo and Llorente is, well, not a partnership. It fails in almost every aspect of the game. Osvaldo did absolutely nothing all game long, bar from a bicycle kick which was inaccurate as it was optimistic.
Llorente: 5.5 - Just like his partner in crime, Llorente was invisible and could hardly protect the ball on occasion. He's obviously better suited with someone like Tevez alongside him as other than potential headers, his bread and butter is a link up play with a technically good striker.
Isla: 7 - his touch still betrayed him in the most important of times, but he was a breath of fresh air for sure. Scary thing is a couple more performances like that and people may start saying he's worthy of playing for Juventus (which he isn't).
Marchisio: 6.5 - you can't directly blame him for the second goal, but would have been a lot tougher for Mertens if Marchisio was more physical with him on the first touch.
Vucinic: 6.5 - Tried involving Llorente more which was refreshing to see, but he's clearly a few games away from being useful.
Conte: 5.5 - Got outcoached by Benitez even when the writing was on the wall for a while now. His inability to adapt to other teams will continue to haunt him when playing big matches against more unpredictable opponents. The only good thing out of the game was that he made substitutions early. That never happens!