An inconsistent first half performance meant that Napoli’s excellent second half was only enough to settle for a 1-1 draw with Juventus, with a Marek Hamsik equalizer in the second half holding the league leaders in Serie A to a draw just days before their decisive Coppa Italia clash at the San Paolo.
The match started fairly disastrously for Napoli, who were unable to get much of anything useful going in possession in the opening minutes, then gave up a shockingly soft goal, falling victim to a one-two between Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic that allowed the German midfielder to score with far too much ease. That early goal allowed Juventus’ injury-battered side to sit back more and defend, a situation that didn’t suit Napoli well.
Napoli did slowly start to grow into the match, playing many of their trademark sparkling passing combinations, but their finishing touch was anything but accurate. Chance after chance sailed high or flashed wide, and the rare shot on frame was anything but dangerous. It was nice to see Napoli play well in the buildup, but with Juventus sitting back and letting it happen, seeing that buildup lead to nothing dangerous was massively disappointing.
Whatever Maurizio Sarri said in the dressing room at halftime, though, seemed to wake Napoli up in a big way. They came out in the second half with a new fire and almost immediately started knocking on the door, with Juventus getting knocked back on their heels early. They almost scored just ten minutes into the half when Jose Callejon blasted home a rebounded shot from Dries Mertens, but the Spaniard had drifted offside while looking for his follow-up.
The equalizer finally came just a few minutes later, though, after another stunning passing sequence saw Juventus’ defense get all turned around. That gave Marek Hamsik an opening to slip through, and one easy touch later it was all even as Il Capitano wheeled away to celebrate with an erupting Stadio San Paolo.
Napoli nearly took the lead just minutes later after a disastrous back pass from Kwadwo Asamoah, but Napoli couldn’t quite pounce on it in time to capitalize on the opportunity. It was clear, though, that the momentum had swung heavily in Napoli’s favor, with Juventus scrambling both to keep up and to try to slow Napoli down.
As the end of the match approached, however, the pace started to slow down, which suited Juventus just fine. The league leaders started seeing more of the ball and slowed it down even more, and Napoli’s substitutions had a harder time impacting the match than Sarri probably would have liked. Juventus were able to just kind of grind out the closing spell of the match, securing the road point and forcing Napoli to take the draw, though they came awfully close to a last minute winner when a Callejon header across the face of goal was left without a runner to meet it.
It’s not a bad result for Napolu by any means — the quality of their performance was excellent, and should give them good momentum heading into Wednesday’s Coppa Italia semifinal tilt against Juventus. But they really needed all three points here, for pride if for nothing else. Still, we’re set up for an eye-popping Coppa match in a few days’ time, and all eyes will be on Italy for that game.
Napoli: Rafael; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Strinic (Ghoulam 79’); Allan (Zielinski 69’), Jorginho, Hamsik (Rog 76’); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Goal: Hamsik (60’)
Juventus: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Asamoah; Marchisio (Dybala 80’), Khedira; Lemina (Cuadrado 61’), Pjanic (Rincon 86’), Mandzukic; Traditore
Goal: Khedira (7’)