A very entertaining Serie A round was capped off by the seminal encounter between Napoli and Juventus, which, by all accounts, was one of the strangest matches of the season. The Partenopei approached the game trying to cut into the Bianconeri’s sizeable lead and to maintain their impeccable home record, while the Old Lady was looking to put any residual comeback hopes to sleep.
Carlo Ancelotti confirmed the defensive formula he has been using lately, which features Kevin Malcuit and Elseid Hysaj as fullbacks and Nikola Maksimovic filling in for the injured Raul Albiol. Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne formed the offensive tandem. Compared to his presumptive go-to XI, Massimiliano Allegri picked Emre Can and Federico Bernardeschi over Rodrigo Bentancur and Paulo Dybala.
After a little back-and-forth in the early minutes, where Piotr Zielinski had the biggest chance with a curled shot, the match had its first major turn at the 25th minutes, when Malcuit botched a backwards pass and fed Cristiano Ronaldo, who was knocked down just outside of the box by Alex Meret, who was subsequently red carded. David Ospina came in for Arkadiusz Milik. Bad things came in two’s for the Partenopei as Miralem Pjanic bagged the free kick in impressive fashion.
Zielinski hit the post with a cross-shot during the Azzurri’s immediate gut reaction, while two attempts from downtown by Lorenzo Insigne where easily snared by Wojciech Szczesny. Once that abated, the Old Lady took advantage on the opponent being on the ropes and scored again, this time with a header by Emre Can, which was also deflected by Hysaj, on a Bernardeschi feed.
Just as it looked like the guests where going to cruise to victory, Pjanic picked up the second yellow card at the beginning of the second half, restoring the parity in terms of men on the pitch. Ancelotti had already take out Malcuit to insert Dries Mertens to go with a very offensive scheme and Napoli proceeded to pin back the opponents trying to stage a comeback.
After various minor attempts, they split the disadvantage in half at the 61st minute, when José Callejon slid behind Giorgio Chiellini in the six-yard box on a cross by Lorenzo Insigne and easily tucked it home. The home team came close to equalize with a long-range effort by Allan and then with few shots from various positions by an uncontainable Zielinski.
With about ten minutes to go, Alex Sandro committed a handball in the box on a corner kick, but Lorenzo Insigne rattled the woodwork from the penalty spot, which justifiably killed the Partenopei’s ambitions. The game ended with no more noteworthy chances and a little scuffle after a hard foul by Kalidou Koulibaly on Paulo Dybala.
Despite a poor second half, Juventus saw his lead balloon to 16 points. Limited spoils in the fantasy game, as Callejon (4), Can (4), Bernardeschi and Pjanic (2) were the only ones able to amass points.
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