Stubborn Juventus hold Napoli to hard-earned draw
In the first of two meetings in four days, Napoli and Juventus could not be separated at the Stadio San Paolo, with their tense clash ending 1-1.
Sami Khedira took the sting out of a hostile Neapolitan reception by putting the visitors ahead within seven minutes, only for Marek Hamsik to step up when it mattered in the second half and draw the hosts level.
Napoli had barely found their feet by the time the champions took the lead. A clever exchange of passes between Khedira and Miralem Pjanic set the German free. Khedira opened up his body and shot low and across Rafael, who, despite getting his hand to the ball, was unable to prevent it from going in.
Now ahead, Juventus didn’t quite sit on their lead, but tightened defensively, almost building a wall in front of Gianluigi Buffon’s goal whenever the Partenopei advanced.
As a result, the hosts’ best chances fell for Hamsik from the edge of the box. On both occasions, the Napoli captain missed the target when he probably should have done better and forced Buffon into action.
Napoli continued to push forward, but never quite managed to get behind the Bianconeri backline, and Massimiliano Allegri’s side went in at the break with a one-goal advantage.
As the second half began, Maurizio Sarri’s intentions were clear. Napoli launched wave after wave of attacking moves, and thought they had drawn level when Jose Callejon tapped home from close range.
A lowly driven effort from Dries Mertens was parried by Buffon, leaving Callejon with the simplest of tasks to tap into an open goal. The Spaniard, however, was thwarted by the assistant referee’s flag, with replays showing the winger was yards offside.
Soon after, Napoli would have their equaliser. A patiently probing passing sequence on the edge of the Juventus box eventually resulted in a one-two between Hamsik and Mertens that played the former through on goal. In a move mirroring the one that gave Juve an early lead, Hamsik, as Khedira did, opened up his body but this time curled the ball high into Buffon’s goal.
Almost immediately after, Sarri’s side nearly had the lead themselves. Mertens and Buffon went for a 50/50, only for the ball to scramble towards the touchline. The Belgian got to his feet and got to the ball before it went out of play, but his effort from the tightest of angles bounced back off the upright.
With Napoli needing the points more than Juve, the visitors looked to take the pace out of the game for its remainder, allowing the hosts to dominate the ball but never really looking in danger of conceding another.
In the game’s dying minutes, Napoli did have one chance to clinch the win. A great ball over the top by Piotr Zielinski found Callejon who nodded the ball back across goal, where Mertens might have gambled on being; but it wasn’t to be.
The two will do battle at the San Paolo again on Wednesday evening in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final, with Juventus currently holding a 3-1 aggregate lead.
Juventus have scored nine league goals in the first 10 minutes of play this season, a record in the 2016-17 Serie A.
Gianluigi Buffon played his 615th game in Serie A: only Paolo Maldini played more matches in the history of the Italian top league.
Napoli are unbeaten in their last four Serie A games (W3 D1).
Juventus have conceded only four goals in their last 11 Serie A games (W9 D2).
Marek Hamsik reached 350 Serie A appearances, while Elseid Hysaj hit 100.
Sami Khedira has scored five league goals this season, as many as he did in 2015-16.
Juventus made only three touches in the opposition box in the first half, as many as in the first half of the reverse fixture.
In the whole game Juventus have made only four touches in Napoli’s box, which is a record low for the Bianconeri this season.
Juventus fired only one shot on target, a negative record for the Bianconeri this year.
Juventus recorded their worst difference (13) between shots faced (17) and fired (4) in this season’s Serie A.
Hamsik has scored 11 goals this season: one less than his record in the Serie A 2009-10 (12).
Hamsik’s last Serie A goal against Juventus was back in November 2011, ending a 10 game run without scoring.