Napoli were on Thursday held to a 1-1 draw by Juventus which left them lagging behind in the Serie A title race, on a day in which the dominant topic was the coronavirus cloud hanging over the league.
Dries Mertens opened the scoring in the 23rd minute for Napoli, who performed well in an open game at the Allianz Stadium in Turin but were pegged back eight minutes after half-time when Federico Chiesa’s deflected shot squirmed past David Ospina.
Both players had chances to win the match well saved by Ospina and Juve stopper Wojciech Szczesny but an intense contest eventually petered out into a draw.
Napoli lag six points behind leaders and reigning champions Inter Milan, whose early match at Bologna was the first of four not to take place after their hosts were banned from playing by local health authorities to keep a Covid cluster at the club under control.
Juve meanwhile missed the chance to put pressure on fourth-placed Atalanta in the Champions League race, as they sit three points back in fifth having played a game more after the Bergamo outfit’s match with Torino was also shelved.
In an open and frantic first half with Lorenzo Insigne and Chiesa acting as the driving forces for their sides on the counter-attack, it was the visitors who took a surprise lead against the run of play.
Insigne’s dinked ball found Matteo Politano who laid the ball off to Mertens to drill his low shot into the bottom corner. Wojciech Szczesny got a hand to it, ultimately preventing Matthijs de Ligt from making a goal-line clearance, and Napoli were in front.
Juventus were wasteful in front of goal, registering just one shot on target, and Napoli continued to threaten. Szczesny was called into action in the 37th minute, tipping Piotr Zielinski’s 25-yard strike over the bar.
Juventus’ pressure eventually counted as the hosts grabbed an equaliser in the 53rd minute. A cross landed at the feet of Italy international Chiesa and he curled his left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
The shots continued to pour in from both sides. In the 61st minute, Weston McKennie’s vicious strike from outside the box veered wide moments before Szczesny got his entire body behind a dangerous close-range shot from Mertens.
Substitute Moise Kean headed a fine Juan Cuadrado cross over the bar in added time, but neither side were able to find a decisive winner.
The result means Napoli remain third in Serie A on 40 points. Juventus, meanwhile, extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to seven matches but remain in fifth and 11 points off top spot.
League leaders Inter Milan have a game in hand after their Thursday afternoon clash with Bologna was suspended due to a Covid outbreak in the Bologna squad.
A point means Napoli can vaguely be considered in the title hunt, while Juventus are blindly hoping to secure a top-four finish as they continue to cope with life without Cristiano Ronaldo and a lack of funds to be considered elite. Is it fact both sides will ultimately settle for a point really good enough from either team – and for Napoli in particular right now?
Napoli’s captain and one-club man Lorenzo Insigne is set to move to MLS club Toronto FC in the summer which may suggest he no longer feels he is at a club who will challenge for trophies and would rather take the money and the adulation of the Toronto FC support over another turgid scrap for a European spot before, being part of a team who get knocked out at an uninspiring point of a continental competition.
Thursday night’s result means Napoli are six points off top spot, which could stretch to nine if Inter win their game in hand, and nobody really believes the Naples club are in this title race. A mentality overhaul and more funds are required at the club if they are to re-live their former glories and be attractive enough to retain their best players.
The Juventus forward was the driving force in the majority of the hosts’ attacks and his goal was well taken. Juventus lack any real drive along their front line without him and the 24-year-old proved yet again why he is regularly sought after by the top European clubs. Like in Insigne’s case, you wonder how long he will want to slog it out at Juventus for.
Juventus: Szczesny (7), Cuadrado (6), De Ligt (6), Rugani (6), Sandro (6), McKennie (6), Rabiot (6), Locatelli (6), Chiesa (8), Bernardeschi (6), Morata (6) Subs: Bentancur (6), Dybala (6), Kean (N/A), De Sciglio (N/A), Kulusevski (N/A)
Napoli: Ospina (6), Di Lorenzo (6), Rrahmani (6), Jesus (6), Ghoulam (5), Lobotka (5), Demme (6), Politano (6), Zielinski (7), Insigne (7), Mertens (7) Subs: Elmas (N/A), Petagna (N/A), Zanoli (N/A)