Challengers Inter Milan and Lazio both lost ground earlier today in the title race, with both sides beind held to draws, but with a chance to go six points clear of the former, Juventus muffed their chance with an inconsistent performance away at inspired Napoli.
Maurizio Sarri’s (and Gonzalo Higuain too) former side came out of the blocks fired up, and a mostly-lethargic Juve side struggled to match them for intensity, choosing mostly to play keep-away with the ball in the first half.
Speaking after the game, Sarri was quite displeased with how side had played.
“We were passive for the entire match, thought we could play with a slow tempo, taking five touches, always distant between areas, extremely bland.
“It was a bad game, we had the wrong approach, intensity and psychological interpretation, which was followed by physical interpretation. This cannot be us, evidently.
“We put Napoli into a situation where they only had to do the bare minimum to beat us. We were always late to every ball. It was as if we were in slow motion and nothing worked, it was all through the team.”
Despite lining up with the triad of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, Juve failed to create any significant chances.
“I chose this trio because they all seemed to be in good shape, the midfield appeared balanced enough to sustain them, but I don’t see any individuals to blame for this. The whole team was bland.”
Was a leader like Giorgio Chiellini missing on the pitch today, especially since his Napoli counterpart Lorenzo Insigne led from the front with a goal and an assist?
“Chiellini brings a certain mentality to games and situations, so would certainly raise the aggression level. We really do give off the impression at times that we are passive in our final third. For example, in the Coppa Italia, AS Roma scored because we were passive, allowing a player to run undisturbed from midfield to shoot from the edge of the box.
“When I saw what was happening, I tried to introduce Douglas Costa as a proper winger, trying to give some width to the team. That was the idea, anyway, but it made little difference.”
This was only Juve’s second loss in the league this season, what was similar today to that defeat against Lazio?
“Just as against Lazio, we had a lack of mental energy. When you aren’t fired up, this sparks a chain reaction with tactical and technical problems, but it all stems from there.”
Was the manager particularly displeased about losing on his return to the stadium of his former side?
“I am happy for the lads, as I will always be fond of them. If you have to lose, I guess I’d rather it be here to help Napoli get out of their current problems. I’d rather they started winning next week, of course…”
The Napoli ultras brought the full bore of their anger and aimed it at the manager and Higuain with a number of vitriolic banners and chants.
“Clearly, the game takes over and you have to detach yourself from everything around that. Napoli represented a special moment in my life and it’s always pleasing and emotional to be back here.”
On the missed opportunity to go further clear in the title race -
“We should’ve felt more motivated to break away rather than less, otherwise this’ll mean we’re weak. I would hope not. If that situation weighed on us, even unconsciously, it means we aren’t ready yet.”