The most anticipated match-up of the early portion of the season did not disappoint and, for a change, was played at a fast pace and with a proactive attitude by both sides. Juventus came out on top by overwhelming Napoli led by their big-ticket summer acquisition, but the Partenopei confirmed their competitivity on Saturday, even though it will be tough for anybody to keep up with the seven-time Italian Champions in the standings.
The Old Lady came into the game having won every fixture, while Napoli dropped points just once as they were defeated by Sampdoria. Massimiliano Allegri surprisingly stuck with Paulo Dybala in the trident, while it was widely believed that Federico Bernardeschi would start, and then arrayed his go-to XI. Carlo Ancelotti did a similar thing and picked Dries Mertens over Arkadiusz Milik up front.
The Azzurri came out guns blazing, pressing high and putting to test the black-and-white back-line. Few minutes in, Piotr Zielinski hit the post with a long-range daisy-cutter, which was past the goalie’s reach. The guests deservedly broke through after ten minutes, when Allan intercepted an errant pass by Leonardo Bonucci in the final third, slid it to an onrushing José Maria Callejon in the box, who then fed Dries Mertens with a square ball on his first touch, with the Belgian striker punching it into the empty net.
The Turin-based squad looked rattled for the shocking start, but Cristiano Ronaldo took over and revived his teammates with a pair of quality plays and attempts from distance. The ex-Real Madrid ace got his first assist at the 26th minute, when he juked Elseid Hysaj on the left with a hesitation move and delivered a superb cross that Mario Mandzukic easily buried with a towering header.
After the tie, Napoli had trouble mustering good offence from a long stretch, and La Madama took control of the proceedings. A Ronaldo free kick from angled position led to a scrum in the box as David Ospina batted it centrally, but Giorgio Chiellini, Emre Can and Miralem Pjanic were unable to tap it in.
The Bianconeri got the lead four minutes into the second half: Ronaldo shook free in ideal position for a long-range effort, which hit the post, but Mandzukic pounced on the rebound. Ten minutes later, Mario Rui picked up his second yellow card for a reckless tackle on Paulo Dybala, leaving his side in ten men.
The episode worked in reverse because Juventus took its foot off the gas, but Napoli were still in the game and should have tied when Milik found a cutting Callejon between the defenders, but the Spaniard took too much time and concluded timidly in front of Wojciech Szczesny.
This served as a wake-up call for the home team, which sealed the deal at the 76th minutes, when Bonucci poked home with a slide a Ronaldo’s flick-on in a corner kick. The €100M man could have coronated an exceptional performance with a goal of his own, but he wasted two good scoring opportunities late.
In the fantasy game, Mandzukic racked up eight points, Mertens and Ronaldo four, Bonucci three and Callejon two.
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