Strikes either side of half-time see the Bianconeri’s unbeaten Serie A run brought to a halt in Naples. 2-0 to the hosts
Goals from Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens brought the Bianconeri’s 22-match unbeaten run to an end as Napoli ran out 2-0 winners on a disappointing night at the San Paolo.
Antonio Conte’s league leaders endured a tough night in Naples and, despite turning in a markedly improved performance after the break, were eventually toppled when Mertens pounced in the final stages to condemn them to their second Serie A defeat of the season.
Urged on by a passionate crowd at the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli started on the front foot and fashioned two clear-cut chances to open the scoring within the opening nine minutes. Neat build-up play on both occasions saw the ball fed into the feet of Callejon and Marek Hamsik, who were each thwarted by magnificent reflex stops from an inspired Gigi Buffon.
With the hosts making all the running in the initial exchanges, Juventus spent significant spells pinned deep inside their own half as they attempted to weather the initial storm of the Partenopei’s aggressive start.
Hauled forward by the strong running of Paul Pogba, the Bianconeri improved midway through the first half. Dani Osvaldo’s directness in taking on his man created a shooting opportunity on the edge of the area for Lichtsteiner, who directed his left-footed shot straight into the arms of Pepe Reina.
An intense, passionate affair continued to unfold as the first half wore on, with tempers occasionally threatening to boil over due to a number of robust challenges in the middle of the park. Gokhan Inler was the first to enter Daniele Orsato’s book following one on Giorgio Chiellini.
And the heat of the stadium rose an extra notch moments later when Callejon ghosted in beyond Kwadwo Asamoah to guide Lorenzo Insigne’s teasing delivery past a stranded Buffon on 37 minutes.
The second half began with Juventus playing with greater intensity in the final third, with Lichtsteiner and Mauricio Isla, on for Asamoah less than ten minutes into the restart, encouraged to gain increased ground in enemy territory. It was the Swiss international who created the first threat on goal on 56 minutes, but his curling effort lacked sufficient direction and was comfortably gathered by Reina.
Back came Napoli, this time from Faouzi Ghoulam’s set-piece routine that was only stopped from coming to fruition by another fine Buffon stop.
Now with Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic on in place of Pogba and Osvaldo, Juventus readied themselves for a late siege on Napoli’s goal. Within seconds of his introduction, the Montenegrin worked himself into a pocket of space outside the area and sent a curling effort at goal that dropped wide of Reina’s far post.
But with the visitors upping the number of bodies committed forward as the clock ticked down towards the final ten minutes, the risk of being caught on the counter became even more evident.
It was precisely this approach that Napoli adopted when delivering what proved to be the killer blow nine minutes from time, Mertens finding the bottom corner with a crisp strike that left Buffon with no chance.
Juventus, who lie 11 points ahead of second-placed Roma, will now look to bounce back at the first time of asking, starting with Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final clash with Lyon in France.