Paulo Dybala 4/10 as Juventus' passivity brings Napoli back in title race
Napoli's 1-0 win over Juventus at the Allianz Stadium reopened the title race and reduced the gap at the Serie A table to just one point.
Juventus adopted a reactive approach to the match, forcing Napoli to take the initiative. The Partenopei proved determined to play their game and controlled possession and looked for avenues through which to pierce a Juve defence that lost Giorgio Chiellini to an injury early on. While they struggled to create opportunities, they certainly impressed in their ability to stop Juventus playing, their pressing game proving so powerful that Juve struggled to even overcome the first line of defence.
In the second half the game seemed destined to end in a goalless draw, but the side that usually succeeds in managing the moments within a game conceded an excellent header as Kalidou Koulibaly struck the winning goal to collect the win and ensure Naples will celebrate throughout the night.
This may be a loss for Juventus but it is a win for calcio and Serie A as the world grows more and more entertained by the challenge and competition at the top. Having such a tight race with only four games to go will ensure more viewers and more interest in the league.
According to Opta, this was the first time since the inauguration of Juventus' stadium that they did not manage one shot on target in a home match. All the forwards proved disappointing on a night Juve struggled to create an opportunity or play a game worthy of the jersey.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- It makes sense that Massimiliano Allegri asked his squad not to force the issue but rather adopt a more reactive approach, as a draw would have suited them just fine. But Juve were not reactive -- they simply didn't play. They are no longer a side that guarantees clean sheets, and a more proactive approach likely would have resulted in points, especially considering they are set to face much harder opponents than Napoli in the next few weeks.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK, Gianluigi Buffon, 6 -- Always alert when it came to Napoli's attempts from distance and did well to stop Jose Callejon. Nothing he could do on the goal.
DF Benedikt Höwedes, 6 -- The manner in which he struggled against Lorenzo Insigne is perhaps the reason why Allegri opted to bring on Stephan Lichtsteiner, pushing Höwedes to the middle rather than bring on a centre-back. Better in the middle, although struggled against fast and direct play.
DF Medhi Benatia, 5 -- A near-perfect performance from the player who found himself always in the right place at the right time to halt the opponent. That is, until the end. One giant error against Koulibaly, and Napoli collected all three points and reopened the title race.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, N/A -- Sadly he may be out for a while, if not for the rest of the season, after suffering an injury. Taken off quickly.
DF Kwadwo Asamoah, 5 -- He had one great interception but overall was a little too aggressive in his play, not composed when required to be and offered little going forward. At least he was cautious in defence.
MF Sami Khedira, 5 -- Struggled in a two-man midfield with just Miralem Pjanic alongside him. Needs another man to allow him to affect play and make the necessary contributions in attack and defence. Overwhelmed and out of sorts. Not a typical Khedira performance.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 5 -- Offered Juve a glimmer of hope from set pieces, coming close to causing the opponent trouble but he has to do more to launch the attack, to dictate the pace and to impose his character. Badly controlled possession on the night too.
FW Douglas Costa, 6 -- Costa offers speed, dribbling and pushes the lines back, but after doing so well recently, he returned to making poor decisions tonight, indulging in individual play as opposed to playing for the team.
FW Paulo Dybala, 4 -- Anonymous display from the alleged star. Juve didn't play the proactive football that helps to bring out the best in him, but surely more must be demanded from the player Juve are building around.
FW Blaise Matuidi, 6 -- Offered energy and some good runs in the first half but overall looked confused tactically and thus confused his teammates around him.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 5 -- In the first half he really fought for his team, tried to provoke errors and won the free-kick that nearly allowed Pjanic to score but struggled to keep it up in the second half and surrendered.
DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, 5 -- A poor performance from the player who did little to help his team but instead gifted Napoli opportunities to create danger.
FW Juan Cuadrado, 6 -- He tried to affect his play with his dribbles and pace but he cannot do it alone in the wide areas. He needed his teammates to work with him.
FW Mario Mandzukic, N/A -- Offered physicality and aerial ability in hopes of providing something different for Napoli to deal with.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.