If Mario Mandzukic is healthy and in the starting lineup, who knows if Simone Zaza even sees the field on Saturday night against Napoli. But because of the current injury situation that faces manager Max Allegri, if he were to turn to a striker off the bench, then it was going to be Zaza and Zaza only.
And, boy oh boy, did he take advantage of the chance to play.
Just when it looked like Juventus-Napoli might be headed toward a scoreless draw as Allegri subbed off Paulo Dybala, Zaza had the answer to break the deadlock between the top two clubs Serie A has to offer. The 24-year-old Italian dropped a left-footed hammer on Napoli's defense, rocketing a shot into the side netting at the far post on 87 minutes and giving Juventus the late 1-0 lead that it looked like they might not ever get.
That Álvaro Morata for Zaza swap Allegri pulled early in the second half certainly did the trick, didn't it?
We don't have to say that Juve will only be in first place for a couple of hours before Napoli play again. None of that. For the first time all season, Juventus are more than just temporary leaders as we await a Napoli result. Nope. Juventus, thanks to their 15th (!!!!) consecutive victory, the team setting the pace in Serie A.
Eleven points back in October, Serie A leaders on the second Saturday in February. No matter what you think and how much patience we preached, that's truly remarkable.
Juventus league position on 28th October: 12th - 10 games, 12 points.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 13, 2016
Juventus league position on 13th February: 1st - 25 games, 57 points.
It's a beautiful thing, man. It's a truly beautiful thing.
One winning streak ends, another one keeps going. It wasn't necessarily pretty at times. Napoli were arguably the better team on the night. But Juventus did something a lot of teams haven't done against Napoli — shut them out. The best attack Serie A has to offer was silenced for the first time since their scoreless draw against Roma back in the middle of December. Good thing Juve has the best defense in the league. Sure does come in handy, doesn't it?
This thing isn't over by any means. As Allegri pointed out during his pre-match press conference, there's still 39 points to be had after Saturday's game. But, man, it feels pretty good to looking down on everybody rather looking up at one single club like has been the case for the past couple of weeks.
Like Allegri said around this time last season, there's just something about 1-0 wins...
Random thoughts and observations
- Give Andrea Barzagli his contract extension right now. Seriously, give him one before he's walking out of Juventus Stadium as he calls it a night. He was fantastic not only marking Gonzalo Higuain, but directing the Juventus defense after Leonardo Bonucci had to be subbed out in the second half due to injury.
Whether you call him 'Wallzagli,' 'Roccia,' whatever, he lived up to it Saturday night. The Man of the Match vote starts at Barzagli's name — and it ends there, too.
- Bonucci was very good as well while he was in there, but it's hard not to mention Daniele Rugani for coming in on the spot and picking up right where Leo left off. I mean, that's a huge and tough spot to come into knowing both the situation and the opposition. But the kid delivered. He put forward close to a mistake-free 40 minutes on the field.
- One of the first people to run over to Zaza after the final whistle sounded? Álvaro Morata. No matter how he plays, no matter who he's competing for playing time with, you know he's going to support his teammates. What a guy.
- Again, Gigi Buffon had to make one save. It was a really, really good — and important — one.
- Juan Cuadrado was probably one of Juve's best players in the first half. The second half was a completely different story. He definitely petered out as the game went on and didn't add much of anything going forward come the second half.
- How do you shut down the hottest goal scorer in Europe these days? Just go ahead and watch what Juventus did to Higuain on Saturday. He had all of two shots against Juve. TWO SHOTS. That's it.
- Lorenzo Insigne, for as talented as he is, was a complete no-show. Not exactly a good night to have an off game with so much on the line.
- Most important of all: Juventus enters the next round of Serie A fixtures in first place. It's been a while, but it sounds pretty good to me. Has a nice ring to it.