Gonzalo Higuain masterclass takes Juventus into Coppa Italia final
Forced to suffer, Juventus lost 3-2 to Napoli but won the overall tie to progress to the Coppa Italia final for the third year in a row.
Juventus came armed with ambition and the desire to score an away goal, and they produced a good first half of football despite the whistles at the Stadio San Paolo. Effective and precise, Gonzalo Higuain created an opportunity out of nothing and opened the scoring in response to the continual jeers.
Napoli equalised in sensational fashion, but a brilliant move by Juve, characterised by several good decisions by certain players, led to the Bianconeri's second goal. It was soon after that Massimiliano Allegri's men lost their grip on the game, falling deeper and deeper as they sought to hold off a resolute Napoli side desperate to score. The hosts managed another two but it wasn't enough to win the tie, and Juventus proceeded to yet another final.
Costing the club over €90 million, Higuain had not managed to score for Juventus in the month of March, seemingly losing his precision in front of goal. However, against Napoli on this night, the striker recovered his keen eye for goal, pouncing on every opportunity and scoring twice to restore calm. His confidence on the ball and efficient performance will have Juventus believing they can push for the treble.
It is worrying that Juventus could concede three goals with such ease, dropping their concentration to allow Napoli to think a comeback was possible. Neto's mistake gave the opponent belief, but Juve must remain alert to danger and avoid dropping so deep when possession is lost, as that only invites more pressure.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Not many players available by way of attacking options to allow for interesting substitutes, but Allegri ensured Juventus played with more ambition than they showed on Sunday evening and approached the match with the clear intention of reaching the final.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Norbeto Neto, 5 -- A hero and a villain. Made a great save to deny Arkadiusz Milik, but his mistake allowed Dries Mertens to score Napoli's second goal.
DF Dani Alves, 5 -- Never the best at defending, but against Napoli, the player provided did little going forward as well.
DF Leonardo Bonucci, 6 -- Good at handling Milik, but the defender is not playing at his maximum level. Lacked a little composure and must learn to direct his teammates at the back better.
DF Medhi Benatia, 6 -- Good at winning the aerial duels but not a convincing presence at the back. Should be looked upon as the last option in the Juve squad.
DF Alex Sandro, 6 -- Good at commanding the left lane, especially when compared to Kwadwo Asamoah, but struggled in the second half when Napoli played with relentless ambition. Crucial in the move that led to the second goal for Juve.
MF Tomas Rincon, 6 -- Missed a sitter, and the lack of game time has resulted in him being somewhat clumsy, but he did intercept well.
MF Sami Khedira, 6 -- Good at recycling possession to keep Juventus moving, knowing where to position himself to deliver.
MF Juan Cuadrado, 7 -- He may be theatrical, exaggerating his every move, but his acceleration and pace made the difference. Made the right decision by delivering the perfect assist for Higuain's second rather than going for goal himself. Growing and progressing.
MF Paulo Dybala, 6 -- Heavily targeted by the opponent who consistently looked to foul him, but he directed the game well up top and always looked to occupy the right spaces. Not yet at his brilliant best.
MF Stefano Sturaro, 6 -- A warrior who is always up for a fight, he is growing tactically and provided the assist that led to the first goal.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 8 -- Up against three defenders, Higuain scored the opening goal, worked hard to press the opponent and win possession and managed another just after half-time. The forward seems to have finally rediscovered his efficiency in front of goal.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 6 -- Earned himself a yellow card that will see him miss the Coppa Italia final. Tried to provide quality on the ball.
DF Andrea Barzagli, N/A -- Brought his experience to provide some relief at the back. Made two decisive interventions to ensure solidity.
MF Mario Lemina, N/A -- Barely had any time to make an impact.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.