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Napoli 1-3 Juventus: Paul Pogba screamer paves the way to victory at the San Paolo

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Juventus finally ended their winning drought at San Paolo in Napoli after a good, quick response to an equalizer halfway through the second half.

Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

San Paolo Stadium. That stadium. That cursed stadium where a ridiculous negative record kept going on for 14 years. Juventus’ last victory at the root of Mount Vesuvius came in September 2000, courtesy to a beautiful performance from another certain Tudor and second-half goals scored by Darko Kovacevic and Alessandro Del Piero, turning around the one-goal deficit registered at the break. Second-half goals were also key in Sunday’s game, with Martin Caceres and Arturo Vidal adding to Paul Pogba’s screamer to overcome Napoli and get the revenge for the lost Super Cup in December.

The win is more welcomed knowing Roma drew 2-2 in their local derby with Lazio earlier in the day, allowing Juventus to restore the 3-point gap they had at the top of the table before drawing 1-1 at home against Inter in the last fixture. It was a horrible second part in that game that resulted in Bianconeri dropping two points and it looked as if things were heading in the same direction after Miguel Britos’ equalizer. The quick reaction to regain the lead through Caceres — wasn’t it beautiful to see him playing football again? — and shrewd decision from Max Allegri to change to a 3-5-2 formation worked brilliantly together to ensure Juventus were not letting the game slip away again.

What was interesting to remark, however, was that Stephan Lichtsteiner’s introduction and subsequently switching from 4-3-1-2 to 3-5-2, was prepared even before Caceres scored his goal. Defending with wingers allowed Juventus to sit back more deeply and contain attacks coming from the flanks, which was their major problem in the game up until that moment. Also, having to just defend a lead and put no men forward to attack left no space at the back to be exploited by Napoli, so the win was in the bag nicely — special thanks to Duvan Zapata and Gonzalo Higuain for their late wasted chances, as well.

It might have been interesting to see how Juve would have approached the game after Lichsteiner’s introduction, had Caceres not gave the team the 2-1 lead. Even more if the first poor 20 minutes of the second half are to be considered. Regardless, Allegri got the better of Rafa Benitez in the match and deserves credit for that. So does Pogba, who seems to quite enjoy his time against Napoli on the pitch — three goals in five appearances against them and some goals they were!

If the poor, sloppy first half that lacked movement from midfielders, showed no intensity whatsoever and needed a Pogba-special for things to stand the right way, is to be neglected, Juventus played one of the most clinical games of the season. Jose Mourinho himself might offer Allegri a nod of approval for he would definitely be pleased had any of his teams put in a similar performance — weird, not especially handsome, but one that gives you a two-goal margin win in a place where you only won once this millennium. You can’t argue with that and, as a matter of fact, you shouldn’t.

So there it is — the 3-point lead nicely keeping a safe enough distance from those guys with the violins. Verona and Chievo are to visit Juventus Stadium in future fixtures, while they travel to Palermo and Fiorentina in the hope of getting the maximum points. Had this writer been in a better mood, he would have wished them good luck but it is not happening now. Things look reasonably good for the Old Lady and this win might well prove to be a turning point in the season. Care must be taken Juventus are firing on all cylinders when the big game against Borussia Dortmund comes up. Until then, Serie A should be a stroll in the park...

MATCH SUMMARY

An unexpected calm start of the game saw Cristian Maggio randomly running with the ball out of the playing surface, after a rather embarrassing first touch. A few crackers thrown now and then by the — let’s call them — supporters were the most interesting points of some dull first 15 minutes.

Andrea Pirlo gave the ball away in the centre of midfield, allowing Marek Hamsik more space than he needed to break free on a counter, but his low cross towards Higuain was cleared behind for a corner kick by Bouncci.

On the 18th minute, Jonathan de Guzman missed a glorious first chance as he sent his shot from just inside the box well over the bar, after a through ball deflected by an onrushing Chiellini had luckily reached the Dutch.

Both teams continued the sloppy play, without creating any real chances, although Napoli looked a bit more dangerous, being allowed to attack on counter by some poor passing from Juventus’ players.

However, seconds before the half hour mark, Juventus opened the scoring with their first shot of the game after another thunderous effort from Pogba. As Tevez’s attempt was blocked, the ball bounced at the Frenchman who was lurking at the edge of the box and he hit a first-time volley that gave Cabral no chance.

Caceres wasted a great chance to extend Juventus’ lead with two minutes before half-time. Tevez played a fantastic ball in for the Uruguayan but the defender’s shot from angle was straight at Cabral who managed to pull an easy save. There were no seconds of injury time as referee Paolo Tagliavento blew the whistle to send the two teams to the locker rooms.

The teams came in after the break with no changes to either side and Jose Callejon had an early chance to pull Napoli level in the 47th minute, but his shot from close range was brilliantly blocked with a lunging tackle from Chiellini.

Just minutes later, Pogba was close to goal number two, but the Frenchman was hustled by two Napoli defenders and couldn’t get a touch to a great Caceres cross and the ball went behind for a goal kick.

Fifty-five minutes in, both Evra and Chiellini tried to head a ball delivered by Pirlo from a corner kick but the two of them clashed in mid-air, causing some serious injuries to the Italian defender who needed the intervention of the medical team to continue the game.

Five minutes later, Caceres was booked by referee Tagliavento after a foul made by... well, Claudio Marchisio, who pulled Mertens’ shirt just outside Juventus’ box.

Britos brought Napoli level in the 64th minute. The defender was unmarked in the box at a corner taken by Mertens and had no problems putting the ball past a helpless Buffon.

Out of the blue, exactly how Napoli got the equalizer, Juventus took the lead again in the 69th minute. Caceres found himself at the receiving end of a free-kick taken by Pirlo from more than 35 yards out and volleyed the ball past Cabral, marking his return from injury in style.

Just moments later, Caceres scored at the wrong end as well, putting the ball past Buffon but Tagliavento blew the whistle for a foul on the Juventus’ captain and the goal didn’t count.

Juventus gave away possession completely in the final minutes, preferring to sit back and leave little spaces for Napoli’s attacks, but there was no real danger at Buffon’s goal until the last minutes of injury time.

Zapata was the first to miss a great chance when he stupidly decided to dive after taking the ball past Buffon in a 1-on-1 situation, forcing the yellow card from Tagliavento. Moments later, Higuain showed some excellent ball control inside Juventus’ box before firing a shot at goal that was parried away by the veteran goalkeeper who showed great reflexes.

Usually, if you don’t convert your goalscoring chances, you get punished; and that’s what happened with Napoli. After Higuain’s miss, Juventus hit on the counter with Alvaro Morata finding lots of spaces down the left flank, passing the ball in the centre to Vidal who took a touch before sending a shot into the top corner from just outside the box, sparkling wild celebrations from his teammates and sealing the win for the Bianconeri.

PLAYER RATINGS

Buffon: 6.5 Had nothing to do beside some good positioning on crosses, but produced a brilliant save at Higuain’s late chance. Can’t be blamed for the goal

Caceres: 7 A fantastic return from injury for the Uruguayan who scored the winner, being also wrongly booked by the referee

Bonucci: 6.5 Put in a couple of great tackles and kept Higuain under control for most of the game

Chiellini: 6 Completely lost Britos at the goal, but was well-positioned throughout the game

Evra: 6 Never a presence on attack and despite being constantly ran at by Callejon, he did an alright job defending

Marchisio: 6 His lack of movement made it hard for Juventus in the first half. Was quiet for the majority of the game

Pirlo: 6.5 Despite being again at the start of every action, couldn’t influence the game enough. Good delivery nevertheless for Caceres’ goal

Pogba: 6.5 Scored with a magnificent volley making the difference in the first half. Good physical presence in midfield, although the Frenchman didn’t see much of the ball

Vidal: 7 The Chilean is slowly reaching his usual best level, as he put in an industrious performance rewarded by a nice late goal

Tevez: 6 Unusual quiet game for the Argentine who didn’t test Cabral at all but

Llorente: 6 Another lacklustre performance from him, creating no spaces for teammates, while his hold-up play could be improved

Subs

Lichtsteiner: 6 Came in after Juventus retook the lead, as Allegri switched to a 3-man defence

Morata: 6.5 Brought some extra speed on the counters after he replaced Llorente and also played a good pass to assist Vidal’s goal

Ogbonna: N/A Replaced Caceres with 10 minutes left to play

Coach

Allegri 6.5 Credit to him for winning in this bogey place, no matter how. Overall, defending was decent but the same lack of ideas in attack is holding the team back. Great inspiration to change formations and also for the already ordinary Morata-Llorente sub.