It’s been 18 months now since Gonzalo Higuain traded in the San Paolo for Juventus Stadium Allianz Stadium for his home field. It’s been 18 months now since Higuain became the most expensive player in Juventus history and subsequently became the most hated man in Naples after a record-setting season.
But after Friday night, we need to do some updating of stats.
Higuain against Napoli since joining Juventus: Five games, five goals.
The fifth goal came on an absolutely brilliant counterattack with Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala in the first half, giving Juventus arguably their biggest win of the season with a 1-0 victory over first-place Napoli. Juve ran the risk of falling seven points behind the league leaders with a loss, but the win resulted in Max Allegri’s side cutting Napoli’s lead at the top of the table to all of one point.
(It could also mean that Inter jumps into first place later this weekend, but let’s just not think about all of that right now.)
While Higuain was at his best on the goal, let me throw this out there as well. It’s a question for all of you to ponder: When was the last time Juventus kept a clean sheet in Naples?
Go ahead and think about it.
It was 20 years ago in 1997. TWENTY YEARS. I’m sure there are plenty of us around here who know people who are younger than 20 years old and/or born in years that start with “20” that are otherwise referred to millennials.
Juventus needed this win for a variety of reasons. But seeing Higuain be decisive against his former team — again — and Juventus defend and play textbook catenaccio even with some of its defensive stalwarts not playing might have been the biggest thing to come out of this.
A big-time performance by Juve was needed knowing how hot Napoli had been ever since the opening weekend of the season. They had been the best attack for much of the early season before Juventus took over that title a few weeks back. Maurizio Sarri was getting loads of praise from everybody everywhere for what he has done with this Napoli side and having them play the brand of football they have been displaying.
Yet, after the 94th minute ended, not only had Napoli’s lead atop the Serie A table shrunk to all of one point but they had been shut out for just the third time in 15 league games so far this season.
And while Napoli wasted some good chances, Juve’s defense rose to the occasion.
Getting this team right defensively and having the backline playing well on a consistent basis again will be the first step in this team overcoming all of their early-season form struggles. This is a game that they can build on, and most certainly is the way you wanted to see them begin a nine-day period where there will be big game after big game with each fixture having quite a bit riding on it.
Let’s be honest here, too: You see Juventus go into the San Paolo, get the win and a shutout to boot, you’re going to be feeling a lot better about things, too. It would almost make you want to bust out a huge smile, right?
Same, Gonzalo. Same, same, same, same.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- There’s 50 seconds to go in stoppage time. Napoli are throwing everything and the kitchen sink forward. Yet, right after he gathers in a loose ball right in the six-yard box, there’s Gigi Buffon flashing a huge grin and having a laugh. I don’t know how many other people were smiling at the point as compared to, I dunno, stressing the hell out. But leave it to Buffon to be the calmest dude on the field.
- And let’s not forget some of the saves Buffon made in the first half to keep Napoli off the scoreboard after Higuain made it 1-0. That save against Lorenzo Insigne was clearly the best of the bunch, but it was about as perfect of a game Buffon could have played from a shot-stopping point of view.
- For all the emotions he’s dealt with in the last few weeks, Buffon deserves a clean sheet in big, big game. Buffon deserves the world and every good thing possible, but a shutout in a huge game against a league rival is a pretty nice present for our beloved captain.
- Claudio Marchisio wasn’t on the field for very long, but in stoppage time he had two incredibly important clearances to kill the latest wave of Napoli attacks. That’s the Marchisio I know and love.
- Douglas Costa has really been playing his best ball of the season ever since he started getting consistent minutes. (I know, I know. It’s funny how that all works out, right?) He’s getting more and more involved, showing off his speed and starting to develop a nice little rapport with Dybala. If the Douglas Costa that we saw for most of the Napoli game is the one that is around more often than not, then Juve’s expected expenditure that will be heading to Munich during the summer months that makes his loan move permanent will look better and better.
- I’m still wondering how the hell Blaise Matuidi didn’t score in the second half. Props to Pepe Reina for the save, but man, that was just set up for Matuidi to put away.
- Juventus’ two fullbacks on Friday night, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mattia De Sciglio, were quite good against Napoli. De Sciglio’s role was obviously to not push forward much and absorb Napoli’s pressure — which is something he did extremely well. Asamoah played what might have been his best game in a long, long time. He was crucial.
- Also good against Napoli: Medhi Benatia. That’s three games in a row where Benatia has played quite well. If he continues this form going forward, it will take the sting out of Daniele Rugani not being a regular part of the starting lineup a little more than before.
- That’s a good win. Do something like that again on Tuesday, Juventus.