It seems to be a pattern from Juventus over the last handful of games. They get a goal, be it early on or at some point in the second half, and then they seemingly just drop back into their shell and try to put things on cruise control. That’s fine enough — especially when it works and you’re able to claim all three points as a result.
And Juve did the same thing at the San Paolo on Sunday night. Sami Khedira gave Juventus a 1-0 lead all of six minutes in and the plan quickly became apparent — sit back and try to absorb Napoli’s pressure as well as you possibly can. Basically, Max Allegri had Juventus try to ride their defense to victory after getting an early lead.
Except it didn’t always work. And Juve didn’t come away with all three points.
For much of the 90 minutes, Juve’s defense was able to bend and not break. But for one moment, as Marek Hamsik went in on goal completely unmarked down Juve’s right side of the 18-yard box, the defense did break. Hamsik, Napoli’s mohawk’d captain, pulled his team even and it turned out to be the only other goal celebration we would see, as the two bitter rivals shared the points in the first of their two meetings within four days of one another.
As much as you would have thought Juventus might want to add onto its lead considering how well Napoli were playing, that never happened. Napoli had far and away more possession, far and away more scoring chances. Gonzalo Higuain’s first trip back to the San Paolo as a Juventus player will be remembered more for how isolated up front he was rather than the chances he had to score a goal against his former team.
The only stat where Juve had far and away the bigger — and maybe not better — number was in clearances, but that’s only because they were sitting back and defending so much that it was bound to happen.
You could say that Juve walked a fine line with how they approached the game after Khedira’s goal — and they did. You could say that they pretty much got what they deserved with how they approached the game after Khedira’s goal — and they did. And you could also say that with the way Juve played that coming away with one point in a place where they haven’t played all that well over the years isn’t a really all that bad.
In the end, was it a bad result? No, not really.
But was it a relatively bad and poor performance? Absolutely.
So when we see Allegri saying that the Coppa Italia semifinal on Wednesday against this same Napoli team is the more important fixture of the two, I guess we can believe him. Seems as though conserving some energy was the name of the game on Sunday.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Pre-game thought: “Mario Lemina playing as a right winger, huh?”
- Post-game thought: “Mario Lemina playing as a right winger wasn’t as bad as I thought it might end up being.”
- Miralem Pjanic’s performance on his 27th birthday ... not great.
- Although, I gotta admit, the combination play between Khedira and Pjanic on Juve’s goal was pretty nice. It’s too bad that it turned out to be one of the best things Pjanic did all game, though.
- I have no idea how healthy Mario Mandzukic is. But when he took a knock in the second half and stayed on the field the rest of the game, I can’t be the only person that was sitting there watching the game and scratching their head.
- I think I lost count of how many bad turnovers there were in Juve’s defensive third. This was not the model game when it came to passing out of the back. Some of the passes that Giorgio Chiellini and Kwadwo Asamoah played out of the back were more like they were playing with fire. Not good.
- This was really a bag of mixed results kind of game for Chiellini. He made some really odd plays and got shook out of his boots a couple of times by Napoli players. But he also made some crucial clearances on dangerous crosses. Some good, some not so good. So, yeah, a lot like the team as a whole.
- If there was one player who I really liked how they played against Napoli it probably would have been Claudio Marchisio. As Napoli really started to turn up the pressure as the first half went on, he was one of the more stable performers. He was almost like the calm in the center of the midfield as the storm was rolling in.
- Khedira was also pretty good. I would like to see more of that combination.
- One final post-game thought: “Oh, we gotta do this again with Napoli on Wednesday?”