Why Napoli will beat Juventus to the Scudetto
As the referee blew Sunday's final whistle, red-faced Juventus faithful were left shell-shocked. They couldn't believe what had just hit them. Napoli would return south with maximum points for the first time in seven visits to the north. The Allianz Stadium soon became a graveyard.
It was an embarrassing night for Massimiliano Allegri's men. The Old Lady had her lead slashed to just one point thanks to Kalidou Koulibaly’s late headed goal. While the jubilant guests remained on the pitch, the Bianconeri took the walk of shame down the tunnel.
“It was a very bad match for both teams, with practically zero shots on goal. Unfortunately, we did not mark properly for their corner and so we conceded a goal,” - Allegri moaned.
Gianluigi Buffon was partly culpable for the goal. Yet the 40-year-old veteran stayed behind, applauding Maurizio Sarri’s gallant troops. He absorbed all the emotions to extend warm hugs and handshakes to his conquerors as if to say he had abdicated the crown.
Buffon was just 12 when Gli Azzurri last brought the Scudetto to Campania in 1990. His remarkable journey began the year after at Parma. Still, he must have some fond memories of that famous Naples-side which stunned the country with their entertaining football. Perhaps he's noticed similar traits in Sarri's team.
By some distance, Napoli has been Italy’s best side this term, flaunting an artistic, short-passing style. Regardless the opposition, Sarri has stayed true to his philosophy.
It would be blasphemous to change the football that brought us here.
Known for the art of watering down pressure, Juve attempts to exhaust their rivals then finish them off with a lethal finale. Tables turned on this occasion; they were overwhelmed by Napoli. Possession was 61 percent to 39. For shots, Gli Azzurri had four, none for Gonzalo Higuain and friends. The Napoleans weren't entirely convincing. Yet, they fought to sustain an active high press, routinely sending as many as three players to smother the Bianconeri in possession.
Allegri's side still lead the way, in complete control of their destiny. But their remaining four games include away trips to Inter Milan and Roma. Both are fighting tooth and nail for a Champions League berth.
Napoli’s schedule is not exactly soft. Visits to Fiorentina and Sampdoria must come, as well as home fixtures against Torino and Crotone. If offered the chance, though, would they trade places?
It is not simply a question of the fixture list, either. The impact of this win went beyond what you could read in the standings. A month earlier, following a win over Genoa, Sarri responded to a question about whether his team could win the title.
If it was up to me we would go to the palace and seize power.
By prevailing in Turin, he may have achieved just that.
More than ever, Napoli's quest is gathering serious momentum. They haven't tasted defeat since losing at home to Roma early March. The victory over Juve means the Partenopei are undefeated in 30 road trips. The Old Lady, meanwhile, are conceding at quite an alarming rate. They let in two at Benevento, one at Crotone and another against Napoli. Worst, Giorgio Chiellini will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his muscle in Sunday's defeat. Plus there's the distraction of a Coppa Italia final against AC Milan.
“Mamma mia” the party has already begun in Naples. It could remain that way even after May 20th.