Raspadori to the rescue for Napoli

Having been dumped out of the Champions League in midweek by AC Milan, Napoli resumed domestic duties looking for a win that would take them closer to their first Scudetto title in 32 years. In their path, they’d meet a resurgent Juventus side with the best home record in the division – buoyed by a successful appeal over a 15-point penalty deduction to move back into the European qualifying placings.  

JUV: Szczesny, Cuadrado, Danilo, Gatti, Rugani, Rabiot, Locatelli, Kostic, Soule, Miretti, Milik. 

NAP: Meret, Di Lorenzo, Kim, Jesus, Olivera, Ndombele, Lobotka, Anguissa, Lozano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia. 

Whilst safe passage to the Europa League semi-finals has rounded off a good week for the side from Turin, it has been a turbulent year for Massimiliano Allegri’s side. When these two sides met in January, nobody would have predicted the 5-1 beating Napoli handed out to a side with such a watertight defence.

That would be just the start for the Old Lady, who went on to suffer a catastrophic points deduction the following week, understandably coinciding with a drop in form that would see them drop to mid-table and the possibility of a lack of European football next season.

Roll on three months, and there is light at the end of the tunnel for Allegri. A successful appeal has propelled his side back into the Champion’s League qualifying mix in what looks like a five-way battle for the three remaining places behind runaway leaders Napoli. 

Out for revenge against the side from the Campania region, Allegri chose to shuffle his pack – making five changes having come through a gruelling trip to Lisbon on Thursday night. The likes of Angel Di Maria, Dusan Vlahovic and Federico Chiesa miss out, with the trio needing to be managed for the remainder of the campaign after suffering various injury problems this season. 

Moving to a back four in lieu of their regular three-man back-line, Federico Gatti was given the chance to impress in the heart of defence – partnered by Italy defender Daniele Rugani. The rotation also saw a start for Arkadiusz Milik in attack, with Matias Soule and Flip Kostic charged with creative duties from midfield. 

Napoli’s season in recent weeks has been derailed somewhat by indifferent form throughout the month. Despite holding a healthy 14-point advantage over Lazio in the race for the Scudetto title, the Partenopei find themselves dumped out of the Champions League, having won just one of their last five games in all competitions. Luciano Spalletti was able to call back the suspended duo of Kim Min-jae and Frank Anguissa for the trip to Turin, whilst Hirving Lozano came in for the injured Matteo Politano in the front three. 

The home side started as the brighter of the two sides and gained the game’s first meaningful opportunity. Kostic managed to break free on the left, picking out Milik with a searching cross – though the Polish striker was only able to head straight at visiting goalkeeper Alex Meret.

The visitors began to settle and started to find their way into the game. A neat interplay on the right from Di Lorenzo and Lozano saw the Mexican fire a cross to talisman Kvaratskhelia, arriving late into the box to send a bullet header at Szczesny. The former Arsenal stopper was equal to the effort, tipping one-handed over the crossbar to safety. 

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

Napoli enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but chances were few and far between as the sides remained goalless at the break with both managers plotting whether to stick or twist. 

Spalletti’s side looked to play more direct in the second period, and were almost rewarded in the opening minutes. Kvaratskhelia, now seeing more of the ball, was involved on the left-hand side, twisting and turning past Cuadrado before firing a shot low at Szczesny. The Pole reacted well though, clutching on gratefully to the effort. 

Kvaratskhelia then linked up well with Osimhen as Napoli looked to turn the screw on Juventus. Resolute in defense, Rugani did well to block the Nigerian’s effort after a good link-up with the Georgian playmaker. 

Spalletti sent on Elif Elmas to look for the breakthrough. The Macedonian forward was involved immediately, causing problems on the right and gaining space to feed Osimhen. The Nigerian’s shot was deflected inches wide of the Juventus goal though, and the game remained goalless. 

Osimhen came close minutes later, and should have given his side the lead from the resulting corner. Zielinski’s set piece picked out the head of the league’s leading marksman. Usually so prolific in the air, the forward’s header lacked direction – falling straight into the grateful hands of Szczesny. 

Chances then started to come thick and fast for the visitors. Di Lorenzo joined the attack on the right, this time as the creator for Napoli’s top marksman. The striker lacked composure once again though, with his first-time effort on the turn always rising over the crossbar. 

Juventus were still dangerous on the counter-attack and from set pieces, fashioning a rare chance of their own as they threatened to spoil Napoli’s day. Gatti came forward for a corner, winning the aerial dual with Kim Min-jae before heading the ball down for defensive partner Rugani. The Italian centre-back’s acrobatic effort was spectacular in execution, but off target – rising over Meret’s goal. 

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

With Napoli flooding numbers forward into attack, Juventus thought they had produced the ultimate sucker punch minutes later. Anguissa was caught in possession by Danilo before the Brazilian released substitute Di Maria in a pacey breakaway. The Argentinian World Cup winner found himself through on goal and duly slotted a deflected effort past goalkeeper Meret to stun the visitors. 

The lead would be short-lived though, with VAR intervention disallowing the goal for a foul in the buildup to the goal. Nonetheless, it served as a warning to the visitors that the game was still on a knife edge. 

Again, Allegri’s side would have the ball in the net to see it chalked off once more to their frustrations. Chiesa, introduced off the bench, caused havoc on the left before cutting the ball back to fellow substitute Vlahovic to slot home from six yards. Ultimately, the goal was disallowed as the ball travelled out of play from the final delivery. 

Juventus continued to push and thought they should have had a penalty in stoppage time. Cuadrado’s pacey lung-busting run saw the Colombian find his way into the penalty area before going down under the challenge of Jesus.  The official was having none of it though, allowing play to go on with Napoli launching a quick counterattack. Zielinski and Osimhen played a neat one-two, with the latter forcing a smart save from Szczesny. 

Napoli then sent on Giacomo Raspadori for an extra focal point up front, as they probed with the next phase of play. This proved to be fruitful as they broke the deadlock – and Juventus’ hearts – on the night, with the Italian the beneficiary of a fine Napoli move. 

The impressive Zielinski found Elmas on the right in space, before the Macedonian picked out the incoming substitute at the back post who powerfully volleyed home through the legs of Szczesny – striking the decisive blow to the raucous admiration of the travelling support. 

That was be the last action of the game, with Napoli now able to become champions next weekend if they beat Salernitana on Saturday and second-placed Lazio lose to Inter Milan on Sunday lunchtime. 

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images