One thing can be said for sure about Juve: they may not blow you away with their spectacular plays, but in terms of stubbornness they are second to no one. And they have the stats to prove it: 13 goals scored in the last 5 minutes of play, and 39 goals out of 49 scored in the second half. That’s a staggering 79.6%, and a figure which just keeps getting better and better as the Serie A league progresses!
This time, Juventus took ‘only’ 88 minutes to pierce Napoli‘s defences which, in all honesty, were well-organized for much of the first half and good part of the second. Eventually however, the Azzurri suffered the energy drop in the last portion of the match, which coupled with Juve’s increasingly attacking formation ultimately resulted in the visitors’ demise. The executioner for Juve this time? A certain Vincenzo Iaquinta, the Bianconero who has developed a specialty at coming off the bench and scoring vital goals for the Bianconeri. His last-gasp goal today re-establishes a “safety zone” in the standings for Juve, maintaining Fiorentina at -4 points and sending Milan at -8.
With many key pieces of the Bianconeri chessboard missing (Cristiano Zanetti and Mauro Camoranesi in midfield, but more importantly the double absence of Nicola Legrottaglie and Jonathan Zebina in defense, suspended), Juventus manager opted for a 3-man backline for this one, with Stendardo center-back, and Chiellini/Grygera supporting him on his sides. The 5-man midfield was composed by Salihamidzic and Nocerino on the wings, Sissoko and Tiago to provide interdiction, with Nedved supporting the two strikers Del Piero and Trezeguet. On the other end, not many surprises for Napoli: with Zalayeta out of action until the end of the season, the new striking partner for Lavezzi would resurrected main-main Emanuele Calaio, while Pazienza and Garics filled in for Blasi and Mannini at the heart of the Azzurri midfield.
The new line-up took its time to be assimilated by the Bianconeri, also because tactically Napoli were almost playing by heart: containing the wing runs of Juve, then setting up their dangerous counter-attacks. Marek Hamsik started off the festivities in the Buffon-zone (diagonal effort in minute 21, deflected into corner), György Garics ended them before the break. The Hungarian-born Austrian international had the golden chance to put the visitors ahead, but his 45th minute effort while almost one-on-one with the Juve nº1 ended shamefully wide of the mark (with Lavezzi openly voicing his disappointment).
As for Juve, their main first half attempts originated from the feet of Pavel Nedved (over the bar) and Alessandro Del Piero (off-target free-kicks). David Trezeguet was trying to put his exceptional target man abilities to good use, but found he had a rather unwelcome bodyguard keeping him in check: Fabiano Santacroce. 0-0 at the break.
In the 2nd half, since Juve were having a tough time getting some effective penetration, they attempted the long-range solution: Nedved first, then Del Piero (once again from set-pieces) took their chances, but their efforts were respectively parried away and narrowly wide. This prompted Ranieri to modify his tactics a tiny bit, inserting Cristian Molinaro and Vincenzo Iaquinta for Salihamidizic and Nocerino, and shifting to a 4-3-3 formation.
The new team shape seemed to make Tiago quite happy, because the Portuguese international multiplied his activity on the offensive front, obtaining two very good chances for Juve to open the lead. On the first one, his accurate long-range attempt found the hand of Gianello deflecting into corner, while on the second (collecting a deflected shot by Del Piero) his aim was just inches away from the crossbar. Juve were piling on the pressure.
Napoli attempted to react timidly through Ezequiel Lavezzi (Buffon was vigilant), but at this time it was obvious the visitors were running out of juice. Momo Sissoko was absolutely everywhere in midfield, stealing balls and intercepting passes, while the added push of Molinaro on the left wing turned out to be a decisive factor for the last quarter. In minute 82, Garics spectacularly almost headed the ball into his own net (attempting a dangerous backpass to Gianello), while 5 minutes later the noggins of Stendardo and Iaquinta came very close to providing the winning solution for the Biancoeneri.
All this was only the prologue however, the Iaquinta’s final touch in minute 88. With Lavezzi being dispossessed of the ball inside the Napoli half, a left-wing cross from Nedvd found Del Piero inside the box. The Juve captain chested the ball, and without letting it drop to the ground volleyed it towards the center for a well-positioned Vincenzo Iaquinta. The ex-Udinese striker cleverly avoided Maurizio Domizzi’s tackle, then slotted the ball out of Matteo Gianello’s reach. 1-0 Juventus at the death. Some last-minute drama Bianconeri supporters are pretty much used to by now…
|GOALSCORERS: 88′ Iaquinta (J)|
|JUVENTUS (3-4-1-2): Buffon – Grygera, Stendardo, Chiellini – Nocerino (59’ Molinaro), Tiago, Sissoko, Salihamidzic (59’ Iaquinta) – Nedved – Del Piero, Trezeguet (92’ Birindelli). (bench: Belardi, Birindelli, Castiglia, Ariaudo). Coach: Ranieri.|
|NAPOLI (3-5-2): Gianello – Santacroce, P.Cannavaro, Domizzi – Garics, Gargano, Pazienza, Hamsik (63’ Bogliacino), Savini (81’ Contini) – Lavezzi, Calaiò (71’ Sosa). (bench: Navarro, Grava, Dalla Bona, Montervino). Coach: Reja|