An incredibly intense match with huge implications in the Serie A title race saw a change in the team sitting in first place. Juventus came away 1-0 winners over Napoli thanks to a late goal from Simone Zaza, and now the bianconeri have tipped Napoli out of first place and claimed it for themselves for the first time all season
The match started out extremely hard fought and evenly played, with neither defending champs Juventus nor current league leaders Napoli willing to give an inch of ground to each other in a game both knew they needed to win. That made for an intense atmosphere in Juventus Stadium, and a game that it was hard to tear your eyes away from for fear of missing something crucial.
There were a few half-chances for each team in the first half, with Juventus getting the lion's share of them, though Napoli came away with the best chance of the half. Fullback Elseid Hysaj got free on the right flank and fired off a gorgeous cross to pick out a run from Gonzalo Higuain in front of goal, and the Argentine striker had gotten space from his defender to nod the cross in -- but Leonardo Bonucci instinctively threw his foot out up high and just barely got a toe onto Hysaj's cross to deflect it away. It was an incredible defensive moment, and surely saved Juventus from going down a goal.
The second half started with Napoli surging forward, with Lorenzo Insigne getting more involved in the game and Juventus seeming to be caught off guard by the intensity of Napoli's push. That forced Juventus manager Max Allegri to pull Bonucci, who had been dealing with a knee injury for most of the game after colliding awkwardly with Sami Khedira, for the more mobile Daniele Rugani.
That sub plus their midfield concentrating on defense a bit more than usual allowed Juventus to weather Napoli's storm, and the match evened out a bit. Referee Daniele Orsato tried to temper the intensity of the match a bit by starting to hand out yellow cards, but all that really achieved was annoying both teams, who had seen him ignore a number of fouls all match long.
That lead to a very intense closing spell, with both sides surging forward trying to find that one goal they needed to unlock the game. That finally came when substitute Simone Zaza found space, slipping away from Kalidou Koulibaly to hammer home a fantastic shot through two defenders and just past the outstretched arm of Pepe Reina.
Napoli would kick into desperation mode to try to find an equalizer, but there simply wasn't enough time after Zaza's 88th minute strike. Juventus won and usurped Napoli's hold of first place, extending their winning streak to 15 games. Now their attention turns to a Champions League tie with Bayern Munich, while Napoli must now pick up the pieces and start chasing their rivals.
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')
Three things we learned
Juventus handled the pressure of the occassion better than Napoli did
Especially early in the game, you could see one clear difference between the two teams. Juventus looked cool, calm, and collected, while Napoli looked a little shaky and scattered. That should hardly be surprising under the circumstances -- Napoli are an excellent and confident side, but this was their biggest match of the season so far by a mile, and they have far, far less big-game experience than this Juventus side does. That they still played Juventus so evenly despite that nervous edge is admirable, but they didn't play anywhere near their potential because of it.
Many wondered how Juventus' defense would hold up without their biggest and best piece in the middle with Giorgio Chiellini sidelined by a calf injury. Leonardo Bonucci would now like to remind you that he's an excellent defender in his own right, and Andrea Barzagli is no slouch either. The pair kept Gonzalo Higuain -- who had scored 24 goals in 24 games in Serie A this season -- quiet for much of the match, even with Bonucci dealing with a knock to his knee. Juventus didn't even miss a beat without Chiellini, and all that concern proved unnecessary, even when Bonucci had to leave the match with an injury and Daniele Rugani came in.
Napoli know how to keep Paul Pogba in check
Yes, Pogba has scored a couple of fantastic goals against Napoli, but on a whole during his career against the partenopei, his matches haven't gone well outside of those goals. That was on display again today, when Pogba was either allowed to run freely into areas that Napoli weren't worried about him causing trouble, or kept utterly stymied. He wasn't anywhere near as involved in this match as he typically wants to be, and that left him growing more and more frustrated and ineffective as the game went on.