An inspired performance for Napoli was more than enough to see off a Juventus squad that seemed a bit off the pace. Napoli came out firing, which seemed to catch their guests off-guard and they never really recovered, with their "Old Lady" nickname looking more appropriate than it has in a long time.
Napoli 2 Callejon 37', Mertens 81'
Despite the pre-match expectation of a back-and-forth slugfest, and despite the protestations of pundits voer Napoli's formation an not using a "proper holding midfielder", the first half was overwhelmingly in Napoli's favor. The hosts were able to almost completely pin Juventus back, building tons of momentum early and forcing Antonio Conte's squad in to a deep bunker much earlier than you typically see from the league leaders.
Napoli had several excellent early chances go wanting thanks to tremendous goalkeeping from Gigi Buffon, and a questionable offside call denied Marek Hamsik a lovely early goal. While he was definitely behind Leonardo Bonucci when the pass in to him was made, it appeared based on replays that Giorgio Chiellini may have held him onside from the far end of the scrum in front of goal. The referees didn't see it that way, however, and the goal was waved off.
Despite that disappointment, Napoli kept up the pressure. Juventus were able to get in to the match for a spell, but after a dangerous shot from Arturo Vidal and a less-than-convincing effort from Stephan Lichtsteiner, Napoli strode forward again with renewed purpose. Jose Callejon continued to be at the heart of everything good that Napoli were doing, with his tireless running and willing shot wreaking all kinds of havoc on Juve's back line. His efforts were finally rewarded in the 35th minute, as he latched on to a low cross from Lorenzo Insigne and fired home past a finally-helpless Buffon, putting Napoli ahead and lifting their spirits even higher. There were some questions of offside, but the only replay angle shown was questionable and didn't show enough of Kwadwo Asamoah to clearly say that the referee's call was wrong.
That would be the last major action of the half, though Napoli would continue to keep Juve pinned back. The second half saw Conte adjust his tactics some, allowing Vidal and his wingbacks to get forward more freely than before, which allowed Juve to get back in the game, but ineffectual play from Pablo Osvaldo and, to a lesser extent, Fernando Llorente kept them from becoming too dangerous until later in the half.
Conte would bring on Mauricio Isla and Claudio Marchisio in an attempt to shake up his side a bit, and despite the commentators wondering as to the efficacy of such changes, they were brilliantly effective. Isla replaced Asamoah, who had been struggling badly with Callejon all match long, and a swap of sides for Juve's wingbacks saw Isla facing off with Faouzi Ghoulam. Normally that's a matchup that a Napoli fan would feel good about, but the Chilean had Ghoulam's number and gave him fits for the rest of the match, and everything positive for Juve going forward went through him the rest of the way. Marchisio replaced an ineffective Paul Pogba, and his energy gave teeth to Juve's attack that had been sorely lacking, and also did a lot to corral Marek Hamsik, who had been having his way with Pogba for much of the match.
Rafa Benitez eventually responded to those moves with Dries Mertens and Goran Pandev, and was rewarded just moments after sending on the Belgian. With just under ten minutes to go, Pandev sent in a sumptuous through ball to Mertens, and one astounding hip fake later, Mertens had Marchisio and Lichtsteiner fooled and fired in a second goal for Napoli past a stunned Buffon. That was game, set, and match, and Juve's long winning streak and seeming invincibility were shattered with a resounding cheer from the partenopei faithful.
This was a massively important win for a lot of reasons. This is the statement league win that Napoli have been searching for since upending Roma in the Coppa Italia, as they've frequently looked shaky and uncertain even in their bigger wins since then. Today, there was none of that, just confident and inspired football.
If Napoli can maintain this quality and passion for the rest of the season, it will go a long ways towards undoing the concern that's cropped up in the last three months. This could be a huge boost to their momentum going in to four tough matches between now and the Coppa Italia final in early May, and with a little luck Napoli might be about to put a lot more pressure on Roma for the second spot in Serie A's table.
What a match. What a day. What a team. Forza Napoli.