Napoli are the best team in Italian football, and it’s not close.
Napoli are five points clear of the table, and I’ll tell you what: the most impressive thing about the men in light blue is the malleability of their style. Sure, it’s easy to point to games like their 6-0 drubbing of Benevento and shrug your shoulders and roll your eyes and say, “Well, that’s Napoli, they’ll heap up goals against the little men and then fold later,” but then you see that the league leaders head to Rome, play a pretty in-form Roma, and win a tight affair.
Napoli received some luck: the one goal they scored took a bounce off a Roma defender that looked like a perfect pass to Insigne, but they could’ve scored a number of other times. And while Pepe Reina did come up with one absolutely brilliant save Napoli otherwise were very tight at the back.
Napoli can win any way you’d like them to.
Napoli are the best team in Italian football, and that doesn’t mean Juventus can’t eclipse them at some point this year, but right now Napoli are the best team in Italian football and it’s not particularly close.
Napoli have played eight in Serie A and won eight. They’ve scored 26 goals (to Juve’s 21) and conceded only five (to Juve’s seven).
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Oh, Juventus played on Saturday?
- Bianconeri who impressed me yesterday: Douglas Costa, Federico Bernardeschi (Sam and I seem to disagree here), Kwadwo Asamoah, GiorgioChiellini.
- On the first goal: Andrea Barzagli is too slow. Stephan Lichtsteiner made the initial turnover all the way to the back of Lazio’s defense, who built play relatively unimpeded through Juve’s midfield, made Barzagli look silly, and Immobile did what Immobile does: get buckets.
- On the second goal: Stefan de Vrij had possession, and nobody was pressuring him, so he kept taking little tenuous (I know it’s one of my favorite words; calm down; don’t get mad at me for using it probably 12 posts in a row) dribbles forward, and still nobody pressured him so this is probably what he was thinking: “This is amazing! Here I am at Juventus Stadium — I mean, of course, Allianz Stadium . . . silly Stefan! — and nobody seems to care that I’ve got possession and am barging through Juve’s midfield!” Then he probably hummed a Dutch folk song to himself before he slotted a nice pass to SMS, who took a paring knife and set up Ciro with a cheeseboard and some crackers and a lovely Barolo from Piedmont, and yeah it was a huge penalty I don’t understand why anyone would try to argue otherwise
- On SMS: He didn’t play perfectly, but holy shit is he good. Me want.
- On Juve’s midfield: It’s pretty amazing that in one of the rare — in recent terms — games in which Max Allegri fields three midfielders, there’s so little pressure in the middle of the field. Rodrigo Bentancur recorded three tackles, but I honestly don’t remember him being the pest that he’s been in the past. Blaise Matuidi put the pressure on as he always does, but seemed like he was way too forward on the pitch. Sami Khedira returned in somewhat decent form offensively, but for me added nothing in defense.
- Seriously, if you go back and watch those two goals you’ll see that, yeah, Barzagli was pretty poor, Asamoah kept Immobile onside for the first one, but the midfield just stood there and watched the world roll by hoping someone else would do something. That’s not the way football works. (Or the world!)
Onto the awards (“awards”):
Nietzsche's Horse Award
For the player whose play demonstrated an insanity indicative of serious decline in form.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is unplayable — and not in the good way. I mean in the way like you should never play him, ever. It’s another point at which Sam and I disagree. I suppose one fault he shared with his left-flank brethren yesterday (Asamoah/Matuidi) was the lack of crossing, or getting 1,000,000 crosses blocked as was the case with the left. But I really don’t understand the point of him on the pitch. He’s average to bad defensively. He can’t cross. He yells at people all the time (the ref, the opposition, his teammates, random people in the crowd, spontaneous childhood traumatic memories, probably). Literally every run that Stephan Lichtsteiner makes is a run that you should play to Stephan Lichtsteiner, and when Stephan Lichtsteiner doesn’t receive the ball he does the whole “I made a run and I was wide open why didn’t you pass it to me” pouty thing.
Put a fork in me, but I’d rather have Sturaro at right back.
(How shitty is our right back situation? It seems just absurdly, cruelly hysterical that Juventus bought Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa — in hindsight, of course — but isn’t playing them much and didn’t sell Juan Cuadrado and didn’t find a replacement for Leonardo Bonucci or Dani Alves . . . oh man, welcome to the house of horrors, my friends.)
Italian Teenager Gaggle Award
For the unit embodying the following descriptors: incoherent, waste of space, frustrating.
Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala were true compatriots Saturday: both Argentines clearly needed their national teammate Leo Messi in order to win, and actually Messi plays in Spain if you didn’t know that.
I actually thought Higuain played really, really well yesterday in every facet of the game — positioning, hold-up play, high pressure — besides finishing. But that’s the thing about being a striker, isn’t it? When you’ve got the ball 15 feet in front of the net, and it’s just you and the keeper, and you’re not even being pressured by a defender, you need to finish. There’s no excuse there. It was a great save, sure, but it was a very, very poor effort. The most impressive thing about the effort was that Higuain, with so much open net, found one of the tiny spaces that could actually be blocked. Great job!
The No. 9 also managed to fumble the ball at his feet later, too.
Dybala, what the hell, man? The little Argentine was pretty good before the missed penalty. He clanged the post in what would’ve been the equalizer; he had a gorgeous volley attempt blocked. He did the thing that he does: stoke danger. But that’s two consecutive games in which he’s been blocked on a penalty.
Or think about it this way: If Dybala had converted those two penalties, Juventus would just be two points down in the table.
On the bright said, I’m watching season two of Narcos and there’s a character who looks like Higuain.
House of Savoy Award
For the [worst] man of the match.
Juve sucks without Miralem Pjanic.
And as someone pointed out on the comment thread (credit to whomever this was), you really can’t play without Dybala when Pjanic is off the pitch. I’m not sure where Allegri, today’s House of Savoy award winner, thought the creativity would come from. Chiellini sure gave it his all, but boy he’s not elegant with the ball; credit to him that, despite his forays into the offensive side of the pitch, he never seemed caught out of position. (The horrifying thing is that it’s really a matter of Father Time, who’s like a block or two away from the front door, before he’s just too old to be doing this once or twice a week.)
Without Dybala and without Pjanic, Allegri still decided to field Mandzukic at left wing. It’s a huge surprise (cue sarcastic tone) that Douglas Costa was the most impressive player when he was on the pitch. An actual left winger would’ve helped.
In the next month, here are some fun things to look forward to (sarcastic tone is still employed): two games against Sporting, a game against Milan three days ahead of a UCL fixture (you can bet your ass that Lichtsteiner will start at right back there), a game in Naples against Napoli, and a game against Inter four days after another UCL fixture.
Buckle up, kids, because this could be a bumpy ride.
Or something more clever.