We will perhaps never know why the Bianconeri performed so poorly in the first 10 minutes of their Saturday-evening clash with title rivals Napoli, but despite falling behind to Dries Mertens’ opening goal, Massimiliano Allegri’s men were able to clear their heads and turn the match around. The home side picked up a deserved win that takes them six points clear of last year’s runners up.
Bianconeri out in front after Mandzukic and Bonucci secure comeback win
Mertens punishes sluggish start
Juventus’ tentative start to the game handed the initiative to the visitors, who struck the woodwork with just 6 minutes played, after Piotr Zielinski’s low drive. It was a warning of things to come as Napoli managed to get their noses in front with just minutes later. A stray pass out of defence by Leonardo Bonucci was seized on by Allan, who found Jose Callejon inside the area. The Spaniard played the ball across Wojciech Szczesny to leave Dries Mertens with the simplest of finishes.
Ronaldo and Mandzukic combine to level
After their faltering start, Juventus were quick to increase the intensity of their pressing and gain a foothold in the game. The change in approach paid dividends with 26 minutes on the clock. Cristiano Ronaldo showed some clever footwork on the left flank to create some space to cross. His inch-perfect ball into the box was headed into the net by Mario Mandzukic, drawing the home side level.
A change of tide
The leveller marked the start of a different match, with Juventus the dominant force. The team went close to taking the lead following Ronaldo’s free-kick, which David Ospina failed to hold, but neither Emre Can nor Miralem Pjanic were able to put the ball into the net. Other than Mario Rui’s shot over the bar, it was one-way traffic for the rest of the half, and some more clinical finishing would have seen Juve take a deserved lead into the break.
Mario strikes again!
The home supporters did not have to wait long to see their team make their superiority pay, however. Just four minutes into the second period, Ronaldo’s low drive cannoned off the post and into the path of Mandzukic, who was in the right place at the right time to finish into an empty net.
Mario Rui sees red
Napoli reacted with greater pace and pressing, and their efforts almost paid off with Lorenzo Insigne forcing Szczesny into a save with 56 minutes played. However, the Partenopei’s increased aggression led to a hammer blow for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, when Mario Rui was given his second yellow card for a poor challenge on Paulo Dybala.
Bonucci seals the victory
Despite being reduced to ten men, the away side came close to an equaliser, as Callejon was denied by a smart save from Szczesny, having been found in the box by substitute Arek Milik. When playing against a side like Juventus, especially with a numerical disadvantage, you need to take your chances and Napoli learned that lesson the hard way. At the other end Bonucci applied the decisive touch from close range, after Ronaldo met Pjanic’s corner with a header towards goal.
The Portuguese forward certainly deserved a goal for his role in all three Juventus goals and his efforts were hailed by the home support, who gave him a warm round of applause when he was replaced by Juan Cuadrado in the closing stages. The applause continued until the final whistle, with the fans fully aware of how much this win means, leaving Juventus out in front at the top of Serie A.
JUVENTUS 3-1 NAPOLI (HT: 1-1)
SCORERS: Mertens 10, Mandzukic 26, 49, Bonucci 76.
Szczesny; Cancelo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Emre Can (Bentancur 52), Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala (Bernardeschi 64), Mandzukic (Cuadrado 84), Ronaldo.
Subs not used: Perin, Pinsoglio, Benatia, Barzagli, Rugani, Kean.
Ospina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Callejon, Allan, Hamsik (Ruiz 70), Zielinski (Malcuit 61); Mertens (Milik 61), Insigne.
Subs not used: Karnezis, D'Andrea, Maksimovic, Luperto, Rog, Diawara, Verdi, Ounas.
ASSISTANTS: Manganelli, Vuoto.
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Di Bello.
VAR: Fabbri, Giallatini.
YELLOW CARDS: Mario Rui 24, Koulibaly 40, Hysaj 55, Mario Rui 58, Bonucci 60, Insigne 60, Cancelo 69, Alex Sandro 80.
RED CARDS: Mario Rui 58.