Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandzukic deliver again on the big stage for Juventus
It was dramatic but after a terrible start, Juventus' intensity and superiority emerged and the home side defeated Napoli 3-1 to open a temporary six-point gap at the top of the Serie A table.
Juve started poorly, misplacing passes and slow in their movement. Napoli were first to everything, winning the ball, dominating possession and imposing their attacking fluidity to score the opening goal within the first 10 minutes.
However, Juventus eventually settled in, playing the best football they've managed this season and Cristiano Ronaldo was at the heart of it. The Portuguese ran everywhere, playing for the team and without desire to take centre-stage. Initiating attacks and delivering delectable passes. It was his cross which was wonderfully converted by Mario Mandzukic to register the equaliser.
The Old Lady dominated thereafter and doubled her lead at the start of the second half. Frustration eventually led to Napoli being reduced to 10 men and while they still created one dangerous chance, Juve managed the game as they know how and added one more goal to secure the result.
The Bianconeri have coasted in games this season but against Napoli, they showed an elevated level of football. They dominated and played with intelligence and unity. Sacrificing, creating and dominating, their experience and technical quality ensured superiority.
The first 20 minutes of the match or so were disastrous to watch. Juve misplaced passes, made poor decisions and looked out of their depth. Juve cannot take their time settling into the big matches, they must be prepared to fight from the first minute.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Massimiliano Allegri has indeed stopped reading the list of honours Carlo Ancelotti has achieved because today it was his team who triumphed. His team may have started badly but they grew into the game, showing tactical and technical superiority. His substitutions weren't required to change the game.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 7 -- Crucial in denying Jose Callejon at the end to secure Juve's advantage. Ready when called upon.
DF Joao Cancelo, 6 -- Excellent going forward, always offering his contributions but at the beginning of the game, he lacked discipline. He did not support Leonardo Bonucci enough or offer an outlet for the pass forward. However, he grew into the game superbly, managing his tasks well and in a balanced fashion.
DF Leonardo Bonucci, 6 -- At fault for the goal and then struggled with his clearances early on. To be fair, he had no passing avenues open to him and no support from Cancelo either so he struggled to guarantee the safe passage of the ball forward. However, as has become the norm, Bonucci usually makes up for his mistakes and he scored Juve's third of the night.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, 7 -- Barely suffered. Fought and always found himself capable of halting the opposition. Even pushed forward when he found the opportunity. King of defence.
DF Alex Sandro, 6 -- Much like the others, he started off poorly but looked in command of his defensive duties. With Cancelo pushing heavily, Sandro plays with a little more caution these days.
MF Emre Can, 6 -- Plays with such intensity and desire, trying to constantly win possession and deliver for his teammates. Not the most composed or accurate but important in thwarting Napoli.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 6 -- Secured Juve's superiority in midfield. Getting a little aggressive which can both be a good and bad thing, he has to be a little more cautious but he played well and under control here.
MF Blaise Matuidi, 7 -- The engine that never stops. Recovered possession, made clever insertions into the box and consistently offered his contributions all over the pitch. He made sure Juve won the midfield battle.
FW Paulo Dybala, 6 -- Absent initially and fouled incessantly, he was often found jogging when Juve was pushing with intensity and slowed down play when he was the chosen outlet for the ball. Like many others, he improved and played a game of sacrifice thereafter, drawing fouls, starting the action for Juve's second goal and eventually drawing Mario Rui's red card.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 8 -- The Croatian is always the man to rely on to score in the big games and he made the most of Ronaldo's assistance. The first came after he converted a beautiful cross, the second was a typical predatory goal, taking advantage to score on the rebound.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 8 -- The best match we have seen him play in the Juventus colours. Grabbed the game from the scruff of the neck and when Juve struggled to play in the beginning, it was he who was trying, taking shots from distance and trying to forcing his way through. Worked hard for the team, running all over the pitch but at the end, as we have come to expect, he became a little too desperate for a goal and missed.
MF Rodrigo Bentancur, 6 -- Completed his tasks, played with maturity and ensured the result.
FW Federico Bernardeschi, 6 -- His pace and forward play saw him try to help Ronaldo get his goal and offered Juve opportunities for further goals.
MF Juan Cuadrado, N/R -- Not on long enough to make an impact.