So much of the first two years of Max Allegri’s comeback to Juventus was marked by how ineffective his team was in the bigger games domestically and in Europe. Dropped points here, dropped points there, and nothing but frustration upon frustration stacked up like overdue library books that hadn’t been returned yet.
It was one of the biggest things to ding Allegri on over the past two years, and something that had many wondering just
This season, though, is shaping up to be a little different. With every big test that comes and then goes, Juventus appear to be getting by at their curto muso-y best.
That latest came Friday night at the Allianz Stadium. And say what you wanna say about the current state of Serie A’s reigning champions, Napoli still pose a threat for any team that they’re matching up against. Those threats gave out a few scares, but it was Juventus that proved to be the only team to find the back of the net, with Federico Gatti scoring his second game-winning goal in as many games to give the Bianconeri the 1-0 win in Turin, their first victory over Napoli since the spring of 2021.
Gatti’s header, off a near-perfect cross from Andrea Cambiaso, and some very good defending in the second half meant that Juventus got back to where they were this time a week ago — atop the Serie A standings and eagerly awaiting to see what Inter does during the weekend.
For a second Friday in a row, Juve got themselves three points. Thankfully, they didn’t need a goal deep into stoppage time to do that.
But what did play out was quite the interesting matchup between two teams with very different kinds of styles. On top of that, you had one team in Juventus that’s on a run where they’re just getting win after win even though sometimes you’re not quite sure how it happened, while Napoli is trying to right the ship in the midst of a tough stretch of fixtures with Walter Mazzarri back on the sidelines.
For much of the first half, it was probably a little too wide open for any of our liking. As much as Juventus had three or four really good chances in the first 20-25 minutes, there were also some fairly memorable moments in which Napoli could have gotten on the scoreboard, too. It was a case of Juve did some things well to get scoring chances through Cambiaso and others going forward despite not seeing much of the ball, but also had a few memorable moments in which we were left feeling a little uneasy to say the least.
Through all the possession, through everything created by that star-studded trident, Napoli’s first shot on target came, officially, in the 87th minute.
Of course, there is some very obvious luck that Juve had along the way to be able to boast about all of that. Napoli’s best three chances of the night were marred by either terrible finishing — the massive miss by Khvicha Kvaratskhelia — or the offside flag bailing Juventus out on that would-be save by Wojciech Szczesny and then Tek’s big second-half giveaway that Victor Osimhen was clearly off.
Sometimes, you need those kinds of swings to go your way. And it’s pretty easy to figure out that if those things don’t go Juve’s way then it’s a completely different kind of game and most certainly not a 1-0 win. (You can also say that Inter got some very good luck on. top of playing well last weekend against Napoli, so things aren’t exactly easy for Walter Mazzarri these days ... and that’s on top of the brutal schedule he’s in the midst of.)
Juventus got it. And you know what else they now have? This ...
Ten games unbeaten has a nice ring to it. That’s especially true when you’ve still got half of the season to play with the midway point approaching. Juventus’ 10-game unbeaten run while others behind them in the standings have dropped points right and left has allowed them to build the advantage they have, with Allegri’s squad emerging as the only team that can truly challenge Inter simply because they’re keeping pace in the standings.
Juventus might end the weekend back where they were coming out of last weekend back in second. Knowing who Inter has up this weekend, a still-struggling Udinese side, things remaining how they have been for the last few weeks seems pretty likely. But, as we’ve seen, sometimes strange things can happen in the league fixture before or after a big Champions League game midweek.
For Juventus, though, beating Napoli on Friday was something that once again pointed toward this season being different than the previous two. They’ve now gotten wins — or at least gotten a result — over pretty much everybody who is a potential top four contender, with Roma still to come later this month. It’s a stark contrast to last season when Juve dropped points against big clubs as well as provincial sides in Italy.
So whether you believe in Juventus’ Scudetto chances or not, you can’t deny that they’re certainly in good standing when it comes to a top four spot as we approach 19 games down with 19 to go. That is a nice place to be in.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- I still have no idea what, exactly, Kvaratskhelia was trying to do on that breakaway chance that he absolutely skied into the curva. I’m not the only one.
- Also still trying to figure out how Juve’s defense had three guys going to the left wing to try and slow down Osimhen and thus leaving Kvaratskhelia with absolutely nobody defending him. I really don’t.
- I am still thinking about Cambiaso’s cross. That thing was a thing of beauty. I said it before and I say it again, even though he’s playing out wide on the right in a position in which he’s not totally used to, he’s just continuing to do things to help Juve win rather than being a total detriment to the squad. That’s the kind of consistency Juve need.
- Juventus had four shots within the penalty area in the opening 20 minutes. None of them actually forced Alex Meret into a save. (Although, the double chance from Dusan Vlahovic and Weston McKennie were about as close as you can get without a save being made.)
- Wojciech Szczesny made one save in the first half. It was maybe one of the best saves he’s made in the last couple of years. Holy smokes.
- And because there was an offside ruling on Giovanni Di Lorenzo, it won’t even technically count as a save. It’s still a save in my personal record book, Tek. I will always remember it.
- Filip Kostic attempted four crosses in the opening half. He didn’t connected on any of them.
- Kostic finished with two successful crosses in eight attempts. Not great.
- Cambiaso only attempted three crosses. The one he landed, though, was a peach.
- There proved to be some fantastic team defending by Juventus in the second half. Whether it was Bremer and Danilo, Danilo and Kostic, Weston McKennie and Cambiaso, it really didn’t matter — Juve did a lot of good things on the defensive end outside of their couple of very noticeable mistakes.
- Bremer had six clearances and three tackles against Napoli. Considering how things went in Naples a little less than a year ago, I’ll take that every single time.
- Federico Chiesa had three key passes and it could have been a lot more. The dude hasn’t scored a goal in a decent amount of time, but he’s making things happen. And he’s just so damn fun to watch in the open field when he’s either putting his head down on the counter or trying to crush the soul of the defender in front of him.
- Danilo led Juventus with 63 touches. Six Napoli players had at least that number.
- For all of the drama and wild moments this game had, Juventus and Napoli combined for ... two shots on goal. In that sense, I guess the clear-cut best save of the game didn’t actually count.
- Walter Mazzarri was shown holding up his hand and pointing at his watch late in the second half. How happy do you think the director and producer of that TV broadcast were when they caught that moment on camera? Yup, Mazzarri’s back, baby!
- Late in the second half, McKennie nearly had another one of those moments where he sprinted the ENTIRE length of the field to make a tackle. This instance was McKennie just slowing down a Napoli counterattack just outside of the Juve penalty area, but it’s still damn impressive — especially when he had 80-something minutes in his legs already.
- Just because it made me laugh, if you were to look at the non-goalkeeper subs who were not used against Napoli, can you name the oldest one? If I told you it was 23-year-old Hans Nicolussi Caviglia, what would you say? Because that’s the case.
- There’s now 12 points between Juventus and fifth place. The goal of this season was to finish in fourth place. No matter what you think of Juve’s title chances, having a nice cushion between the Champions League and not being in the Champions League next season is pretty nice. Now, to continue this busy December and only try to add to that.