Juventus were outworked and outsmarted in Super Cup loss to Napoli
If a team cannot manage the win when presented with three match points then the trophy is simply not deserved. Against Napoli in the Supercoppa, Juventus choked in the important moments and threw away the opportunity to win a trophy losing 6-5 on penalty kicks after the game ended in a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes.
Talent, character or luck, are just a few of the reasons why a certain team is allowed to lift a trophy. However, in Doha for the Supercoppa final, maturity was the reason the Partenopei are celebrating their victory as it was Rafa Benitez's men who never stopped believing. Immaturity on the other hand, is why Juve will wallow, realising that had they held on to their lead for a few more minutes, they would have avoided the penalty shootout.
Juventus did not play to their potential. They were guilty of too many individual errors, inaccurate with their passing and surrendered possession too cheaply. By contrast Napoli were the more determined side, moving around relentlessly to exhaust the Bianconeri. The diagonal balls combined with their ambitious attacks down the wings should have resulted in more, but their final ball was always disappointing. They simply couldn't demonstrate the efficiency required to truly trouble Juventus.
Yet despite the below-par performance, the Bianconeri were always in control of the game. At the back, they looked comfortable fending off the attacks while they quickly realised the frailties within Napoli's back line, one that backed off and allowed them to shoot. Rather than expend the necessary energy to seal a quick win, they opted to take a back seat and watch as the Partenopei toiled in their attempts to equalise, allowing disinterest to wash over them for large stretches of the game.
Perhaps, like Massimiliano Allegri said, the squad are exhausted at this point in the season, or perhaps this is a side that, in the big moments, fails to exploit its superiority.
The Turin beast was only reawakened when Gonzalo Higuain scored the equaliser. Interestingly, only moments before, Allegri took off Andrea Pirlo and introduced Roberto Pereyra, a move that puzzled the likes of La Repubblica who wondered if it was the reason why Napoli were able to get back into the game. Pirlo may not have been at his energetic best but he was the reason why the team were in control. Pulling the strings from midfield, he was effective when delivering set-pieces and consistently looked to pick out perfect passes for the runners from midfield.
Pereyra's introduction not only led to the equaliser but he deprived the squad of an excellent penalty taker, failing to convert the one he was tasked with dispatching. Allegri was immediately criticised for the substitution in his post-match conference but to be fair to the coach, one could understand his reasoning behind it.
For one thing, Pirlo looked tired and a little slower than usual. While he may not have wanted to come off, he is the type of player who surrenders possession far too easily when not at his best. He had already given the ball away on three spirit occasions, allowing the Partenopei to construct good chances going forward and Allegri wanted more from his team going forward, thinking Pereyra would speed up Juve's play. He wanted quicker movements and thought the substitution would overwhelm the fragile Napoli back line, creating space for the likes of Carlos Tevez. Sadly the result was quite different but it seems rather unfair to criticise his decision.
Pereyra may possess talent and quick feet but his finishing is very poor and he can be a frustrating figure to watch. Essentially, confidence is the reason behind his failure to score and the fact he couldn't convert the penalty demonstrated that perfectly and potentially worsened the problem. Yet he cannot be made the scapegoat, many Juve players failed to play a good game on the night including Arturo Vidal who still can't provide the consistency required.
However, the Old Lady had one particular champion who deserved to be part of the winning team - Gianluigi Buffon. Manuel Neuer can use his feet all day but the Italian is still the greatest goalkeeper we have seen since Lev Yashin, consistently providing us with performances worthy of a symphony of compliments over the years. A phenomenon when he was younger, he still makes the difference at 36, boasting outstanding reflexes that put so many others to shame.
Against Napoli, he made up for the individual errors in defence and earned his team the right to play. When it came to penalties, it was he who made the saves that gifted Juve so many opportunities to win but sadly his teammates couldn't score the penalty they needed to lift the trophy.
Allegri has sought to calm his troops and fans by reminding them that Juve are still in the Champions League and at the top of Serie A so they should not look to complain. The Supercoppa belongs to Rafa Benitez's Napoli and they deserve congratulations.