Bonucci and Zaza push Juventus past Napoli, to summit of Serie A table
Scoring their 15th win in a row, Juventus defeated Napoli 1-0 in the match of the season to take top spot in Serie A for the first time this season. Hardly their best performance but never a side to give up, the Bianconeri found a way to pierce through the league leaders like champions always do, despite the injuries and change in formation.
Many had hoped for an entertaining match from this top-of-the-table clash, but while Italians love tactics, to many others this was a chess match that bore no resemblance to the fast-paced football that enthralls onlookers.
Both sides played with great organisation, careful not to cede anything to their opponents. One moment of beauty was going to break the deadlock, but just as both sides accepted a draw, Simone Zaza scored a sensational left-footed goal two minutes from full-time to send the Juventus Stadium into delirium.
A wonderful interception form Leonardo Bonucci and a spectacular save from Gianluigi Buffon -- players who give everything they have for the sake of their team -- are the reasons why the the Old Lady finds herself in first place with a great chance of winning yet another Scudetto.
This is a team that simply knows how to win. Despite creating rather predictable patterns of play, Massimiliano Allegri can always count on the varied skill sets if his squad, who have the mentality and skill to force a win.
Napoli were perhaps too concentrated on blocking the likes of Juan Cuadrado and eventually tired themselves out, frustrated by Juve's ability to close down the spaces between the lines. However, while they struggled to score the necessary goal, they are by no means out of the title race.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Gianluigi Buffon, 7 -- A sublime instinctive save demonstrated why Buffon is considered one of the best goalkeepers of all time. A leader on the pitch, he is always ready to rescue the side.
DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, 6 -- Cautious and composed, the Swiss played a mature performance while still making the necessary tactical runs forward.
DF Andrea Barzagli, 8 -- His intellect knows no bounds, Barzagli read the game beautifully, conceding little to a determined Gonzalo Higuain, who was suitably shackled. Experienced and intelligent, he consistently knew how to lead a line that is suffering from key absences.
DF Leonardo Bonucci, 8 -- Without his intervention, Napoli would have scored the opening goal. Brilliant, despite sustaining an injury that shook him. Sadly substituted off, but a magnificent performance from an impeccable centre-back.
DF Patrice Evra, 7 -- Reliable when defending, always on hand to collect possession and keep the ball moving, managing to deliver the assist for the winning goal.
MF Juan Cuadrado, 6 -- Napoli often doubled up on him, trying to reduce the usual impact he makes on games. Always looks dangerous, but while his instincts can make the difference in plenty of matches, against well-organised teams, he can surrender to confusion and poor judgement.
MF Sami Khedira, 5 -- He always knows where to position himself to ensure Juventus stay organised but failed to truly impact the game in either attack or defence.
MF Claudio Marchisio, 6 -- Frustrating when he opts to shoot from distance, much better at simply maintaining possession and finding another route to goal. More inaccurate than usual, he still delivered some rather delicious penetrative passes forward that weren't properly exploited by those ahead of him.
MF Paul Pogba, 6 -- When he sets off running, overcoming all those before him, he's mesmeric. But his final ball was poor on Saturday, guilty of selecting the wrong option on several occasions. Struggled in Juve's lopsided shape.
FW Alvaro Morata, 6 -- His brace against Inter and then Chievo was meant to have revived the player, but while he is still as determined as ever, making runs forward and trying to hold up play, he's lacking that edge that used to make the difference. Subbed off early in the second half.
FW Paulo Dybala, 6 -- He was forced to drop deep on several occasions to collect possession and tried to weave his way through a well-organised defence. A little slower than usual, he had the perfect opportunity to open the scoring but missed.
DF Daniele Rugani, 6 -- Some great interventions and rather composed under pressure, Rugani was suitably aided by the veterans who stood with him, surrendering nothing to Napoli's attacking force.
FW Simone Zaza, 8 -- Zaza once again makes this blogger eat her words. A delicious left foot and a combative character, he never gave up on the win and eventually finished with aplomb to take Juve to the top of the table. One of the few players who rarely feels the weight of pressure, he has really developed rather beautifully.
DF Alex Sandro, NR -- The player pushed forward as he always does. Not enough time to make an impact like he often does.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.