Napoli's dreams came to a screeching halt against Juventus on Saturday, falling 1-0 thanks to a late Simone Zaza goal. That strike knocked them out of pole position in the scudetto chase in Serie A despite an overall good performance, and now sees them staring up at Juventus in the table.
The match featured a busy opening 20 minutes as Napoli, as Maurizio Sarri promised, pressed Juventus deep in their own area and played the attacking style they've favored this season. Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzalo Higuain caught the Juventus back line sleeping more than once but the partenopei were left without a goal to show for it. Napoli's attacking, pressing style did leave them open to Juve counterattacks though, and winger Juan Cuadrado had several good chances that ultimately came to nothing.
Things began to shift in the home side's favor around the 20th minute, with midfielder Paul Pogba in particular having several wasted opportunities on free kicks that are normally within his range. Paulo Dybala came up short on several clear chances as well, but the momentum was definitely running Juventus' favor at that point.
Napoli were thankful to survive Juve's dominant spell without allowing a goal and they began to get back on the front foot around the 30 minute mark. At 35 minutes Napoli's best chance of the match came, only to be denied by a world class clearance from Leonardo Bonucci.
Elseid Hysaj found himself with space on the right side in the final third of the field and crossed in an unbelievable ball for Higuain, but Bonucci was equal to it and able to get little more than the point of his toe between Higuain and the ball at the last possible moment. Napoli found themselves attacking in a similar fashion minutes later but this time Hysaj's cross for Higuain was overhit and largely harmless. Both sides spent the remainder of the first half exchanging attacks but few of them looked dangerous and the referee ultimately brought the half to a close with the scored locked at 0-0.
The second half began with neither side having made a substitution, but with Napoli quickly catching Juve off guard. Insigne received the ball outside the Juventus box moments after kickoff and quickly cut in to the area, past several Juve defenders, but his effort from an awkward angle was saved by Buffon.
Napoli's chances of taking something from the match looked to receive a boost after Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci was forced off due to an injury he received in the first half after a collision with a teammate, his replacement being young Italian defender Daniele Rugani. Minutes later Juve made their second switch of the match, removing Alvaro Morata in favor or Simone Zaza. Napoli were unable to immediately take advantage of any loss of sharpness caused by the substitutions, however, and Juve continued to press forward in the attack. A great solo run by Pogba led to what was, up to that point, Juve's best chance of the match but his pass played into the middle of the box was thankfully blasted high over the net by the unmarked Dybala.
Napoli responded well to Juve's best chance of the match and afterward seemed to take control of the match again, briefly dominating possession and getting the ball forward. Higuain was left frustrated, however, as he found himself alone on the end of several Napoli attacks that ultimately came to nothing. It may have been this lack of help for Higuain that motivated Maurizio Sarri to make his first sub of the night, swapping out Lorenzo Insigne for Dries Mertens. Minutes after the switch Napoli were again on the attack, this time coming up short after Marek Hamsik's shot from distance went high and wide.
Juve's final substiution, Dybala off for left back Alex Sandro, seemed to signify a switch to a defensive stance for the remainder of the match but that was not to be. Shortly after coming on Sandro was able to lay the ball off for Simone Zaza, who pulled away from Koulibaly and hit a ridiculous deflected effort from outside the box that found it's way past Reina and into the net. Juve had finally broken through and took the lead 1-0.
Sarri's quick attacking substitution, Gabbiadini for Allan, was a desperation move that almost paid off when Gabbiadini got a clean look on goal but he was unable to shift the ball onto his favored foot and his shot went wide without troubling Buffon. Minutes later Daniele Orsato blew his whistle to call an end to the match, ending 1-0 in Juve's favor. Juventus now lead Napoli by one point at the top of the Serie A table.
Now that their run atop the table has ended, Napoli need to regroup and refocus, because it's time to start chasing. First, though, they've got a Europa League match against Villarreal. Not a bad way to work off some frustrations.
On to the next, and screw the haters.
Napoli: Pepe Reina; Elseid Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam; Allan (Manolo Gabbiadini 90'), Jorginho, Marek Hamsik; Jose Callejon, Gonzalo Higuain, Lorenzo Insigne (Dries Mertens 77')
Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci (Daniele Rugani 52'), Andrea Barzagli, Patrice Evra; Juan Cuadrado, Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Paul Pogba; Alvaro Morata (Simone Zaza 58'), Pauolo Dybala (Alex Sandro 86')
Goals: Zaza (88')