Gonzalo Higuain and Douglas Costa rate 8/10 as Juventus beat Napoli
Beating Napoli 1-0, Juventus blew the title race wide open and sent an important signal to their rivals and to the many who continue to doubt them. An inspiring performance, Juventus are still the team to beat for the simple sake that few boast the intelligence of a side that understands how to play to its strengths and exploit the weaknesses of their opponent.
Napoli have been the most entertaining side in Serie A this season but their game plan is predictable and reliant on the vertical passes and the movement of the front three. By concocting the perfect game plan, Juventus slowed down the game, stripped Napoli's forwards of the passes they require and limited the space. The home side may have dominated possession but they couldn't make that count against a Bianconeri side that was aware of its strengths.
A perfect counterattack was all Juventus needed to secure all three points and inflict the first league defeat on a side that had remained unbeaten in nine months.
Positives: Everything from Juve's determination to their heart ensured their success on a memorable night but Douglas Costa's performance in particular deserves all the compliments. Contributing in both phases of the game, he has shown the intelligence and generosity within his game, helping De Sciglio in defence and recovering possession before pushing forward to inspire the forward line. Boasting phenomenal technique and a determination to be a team player, if Costa continues like this, he will be irreplaceable.
Negatives: It is difficult to criticise a side that played with intelligence and won but perhaps the team should still expect a little more from Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira, who struggled to demonstrate their full range of abilities in this game.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Massimiliano Allegri demonstrated that even when he's struggling to recover the fluidity, he can still outwit any and every opponent tactically. He had clearly prepared his side well, neutralising Napoli's every strength while exploiting the intelligence of his side. His players were composed, defensively assured and determined and this could well be the performance they need to push on this season. The best manager in the league.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Gianluigi Buffon, 6 -- When called upon, he made the vital saves required to keep Juventus in the game. Always assured and concentrated.
DF Matias De Sciglio, 6 -- Had a difficult job on the night considering how Napoli focus their attacks on his wing but the player was composed, attentive and showed his potential. There were a few nervy moments, a mistake but with the help of Costa, De Sciglio impressed.
DF Mehdi Benatia, 7 -- Impeccable at the back for a defender who continues to improve. Attentive, he cleared everything in sight, was good with his head and authoritative.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, 6 -- A little inaccurate, Chiellini needs to improve his passing game when under pressure but otherwise a warrior when forced to intercept, always on hand to rescue his team from danger.
DF Kwadwo Asamoah, 6 -- Reliable and important, Asamoah ensured Jose Callejon made no impact on the game. Focused, determined and physical, he may never boast the technique to provide the attacking threat Juve need but he can always be depended on to provide solidity.
MF Sami Khedira, 6 -- Good when Juventus lost possession, concentrating on the defensive side of his game but not as impressive as usual.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 6 -- Not his best game, making a mistake that nearly allowed Napoli their moment, but he grew into the game albeit without providing the passing game that lights up Juve. Provided the solidity in midfield.
MF Blaise Matuidi, 7 -- Forced Pepe Reina into performing a miraculous save but it was overall work rate and intellect that made him a vital member of the team. He covered ground, pressed the opponent and provided the energy to keep Juve on the front foot.
MF Douglas Costa, 8 -- Exceptional. Man of the match, Costa contributed all over the pitch, using his pace, his technique and generosity to produce an all-round perfect performance.
MF Paulo Dybala, 7 -- The beauty of Dybala's game was how well he understood how and when to relieve the pressure on his side, taking the ball and pushing forward to offer respite. Intelligent and visionary, his assist demonstrated his ability, always making the right decisions. Generous in all that he did to show he's a team player.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 8 -- He wasn't supposed to start but thankfully he played through the pain and scored the goal that secured all three points. A predator and a winner.
MF Claudio Marchisio, 6 -- Came on and ensured his team was protected. Tactically intelligent and solid.
MF Juan Cuadrado, N/A -- Did not have enough time to make an impact.
MF Andrea Barzagli, N/A -- Came on to ensure solidity.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.