Two red cards and a missed penalty was just some of the drama in a chaotic, action-packed match at the San Paolo between Napoli and Juventus on Sunday night. Despite going down to ten men early in the match, Napoli were the better team throughout most of the night and were unlucky to not get at least a point. The Partenopei showed great determination and character through adversity and should have their heads held up high despite the result. The loss does means the gap at the top widens to 16 points sealing shut any slight chance Napoli still had at the Scudetto, but realistically this match was always more about pride than anything else.
It was a nervy start for the home side, but as the half went on Napoli began to grow into the match. However, everything changed in the 25th minute when a poor back pass from Kevin Malcuit forced Alex Meret to “take down” a charging Cristiano Ronaldo just outside the box. Because the referee called the foul, and it was a clear goal scoring chance, the referee had no choice but to award Meret with a red card once the foul had been called.
Replays showed that Meret didn’t make any contact with Ronaldo and while Juventus fans will claim that Meret clearly impeded him forcing Ronaldo to jump over the challenge, if there wasn’t any contact does it matter? After all, the challenge surely wasn’t a dangerous one. Nevertheless the red card and free kick were awarded and Miralem Pjanic inevitably found the back of the net over the wall and past a diving David Ospina.
Napoli’s response was quick and a beautiful ball from Fabian Ruiz found the run of Piotr Zielinski who managed to beat Wojciech Szczesny but not the post. After going down to ten men Napoli looked the better team, but in the 39th minute Juventus took advantage of poor marking on a corner as Emre Can’s header doubled the lead for the visitors.
Just slightly over a minute-and-a-half into the second half, the drama continued as Miralem Pjanic picked up his second yellow card to see both sides now down to 10 men. If the Napoli supporters didn’t believe a comeback was possible after the Pjanic red, they certainly did in the 61st minute when Jose Callejon got on the end of a Lorenzo Insigne cross to get the hosts within one. The comeback seemed to surely be in the cards when in the 84th minute, Napoli were awarded a penalty when the ball struck Alex Sandro in the arm. It was a rather harsh call as Sandro was only a couple of feet away and wasn’t even facing the ball, but as we have seen so often in Serie A this season, the penalty was awarded. Insigne stepped up to take the penalty but the Napoli captain was unable to complete the comeback as his strike came rattling off the post and the match ended 1-2.
Napoli dominated every statistical category of the match with 63% possession, 12 corners, and 11 shots, despite being down a man for most of the match. But the better team doesn’t always win in football. It will take a while to get over this one, but let’s hope the team can rally around this performance and make a deep run in the Europa League.