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Supercoppa Italiana Review: Juventus 4-2 Napoli
Juventus emerged victorious in the Supercoppa Italiana inside the Bird’ s Nest in Beijing, China after defeating Napoli 4-2 after extra time. It’s the Scudetto holders’ fifth Super Cup win, tied with Inter and just one behind AC Milan for the most titles since the competition started in 1988.
With both sides playing some of the most entertaining matches last year, including a 3-3 draw at the San Paolo which many pundits dubbed “the game of the season” , it was no surprise that this one ended the way it did. Juve and Napoli finished with a 1-1-1 record against each other and more often than not scored in gluts, this encounter was no different. The Partenopei took the lead after twenty-seven minutes through Edinson Cavani. After soaking up pressure for the majority of the first half, Napoli struck the back of the net in the only way they know under Walter Mazzarri: With a quick, lethal counter attack which set the Uruguayan on a breakaway with Gianluigi Buffon. However, Juve kept fighting and found their equalizer through a wonderful volley by former Udinese midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah after a cross from Arturo Vidal in minute thirty-seven. Just four minutes later, Napoli caught the Old Lady’s defense high up the pitch and capitalized through Goran Pandev, who lobbed the ball over a helpless Buffon to make it 2-1.
Juventus caretaker manager Massimo Carrera knew he had to do something drastic before it was too late, so he swapped Alessandro Matri with Mirko Vucinic and immediately, the Montenegrin attacker made an impact, Juve had far more opportunities at goal than they did in the first forty-five. La Vecchia Signora made it 2-2 through an Arturo Vidal penalty won by Vucinic and from that point on, the game unraveled for Napoli. Goran Pandev then got sent off for mouthing off to the referee’s assistant, then Juan Carlos Zuniga received his second booking of the game and the Azzurri went down to nine men going into extra time. From there, the Turin based club took over. A Christian Maggio own goal and a Mirko Vucinic strike within five minutes of each other in the first fifteen minute interval put the match beyond doubt.
Looking at the results and stats from the match, one would think that Juventus controlled the match and were unlucky to concede twice. That is somewhat correct, but in truth, their defending was poor in the first half. With Giorgio Chiellini injured, the back three of Bonucci, Barzagli and Lucio lacked pace, hence why they were caught on the counter attack, they were playing too high up the pitch. Add in the poor speed, then the result is a helpless goalkeeper and a goal conceded. The rest of the game was a huge improvement, it appeared as if Bonucci and Barzagli (partners last year) got more accustomed to Lucio and as such didn’t give up a lot of fouls or shots. The other end of the ball wasn’t so much better for the champions in the first half either. The midfield did dominate as was expected, but Alessandro Matri and Sebastian Giovinco couldn’t muster anything together. Give some credit to the Coppa Italia holders’ back line because they weren’t letting too much get by them, but just like in defense, the attack had no chemistry. Plus with Matri not as dynamic as Giovinco, the “atomic ant” was covered and closed down more. Once Vucinic came on, it was harder to tame Juve’s striker partnership as both Vucinic and Gio are brilliant on and off the ball and can score from anywhere. The bright side for Juventus was the midfield as mentioned, Asamoah looked very solid on the left side and Stephan Lichtsteiner did incredibly well on the right flank. Surprising, because in a 3-5-2 last season, he wasn’t as effective as he was in a 4-3-3. Without those aforementioned players as well as Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal, Juventus could’ve gone behind by two goals or more after the first forty-five minutes.
As for Napoli, their downfall was a lack of discipline. Pandev went from hero to villain after a needless red card and Juan Carlos Zuniga earned the same walking paper after punching Sebastian Giovinco. Zuniga’s could’ve come at any point in the match as he became more and more infuriated at the refereeing and when he was on the ball. Finally, it came to it’s climax, costing Napoli a chance at their second Supercoppa. Once they went down to nine men, the defense, who was brilliant all night, couldn’t handle the constant Juventus pressure, so they cannot be faulted for the loss. Partenopei supporters claim the sendings off were questionable and that the referee was too quick in brandishing his red card and Walter Mazzarri does feel the same, but they do look warranted. Even if they weren’t, Napoli had five bookings (including Zuniga’s double) to Juventus’ three. Throw in Napoli’s complaining, they looked less disciplined than their counterparts.
The good news for Napoli is that they managed to soak up all of the Juve attacks and managed to get a great performance out of Edinson Cavani, who was thought to be suffering from fatigue and may have been ineffective, this was not the case. Valon Behrami looked good and Goran Pandev looks like he’s finally settled into his new club (except for the red card). With a young prospect in Lorenzo Insigne on the bench and Eduardo Vargas, this Napoli side could be a serious contender for Champions League football this season. As for Juve, they do need Giorgio Chiellini back and will have doubts about Lucio as he doesn’t look like he’s settled in yet and might not even be right for a three man defense, he had problems under Gasperini’s system last year at Inter, so it’s a real possibility. There’s still lots of time left to decide, but for now, he needs a lot more work. Lastly, Juventus desperately need a world class goalscorer. Director Giuseppe Marotta has nineteen days to sign one, if he doesn’t, it’ll be a slightly disappointing mercato for Juve because despite the strong depth they’ve acquired, their main target has been a top striker. If they don’t get one, they might struggle in Champions League and might not be as much of a favourite for the Scudetto as everyone is making them out to be.