Saturday’s Italian Super Cup match between Juventus and Napoli saw the Bianconeri emerge as 4-2 winners in a hotly contested match. The most significant absence for the Serie A champions was manager Antonio Conte, who is currently serving a 10-month touchline ban for failing to notify authorities of purported match-fixing; Giorgio Chiellini was also missing in action with Lucio replacing the Italian international in a three-man defense alongside Leo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. New signing Kwadwo Asamoah played in an unfamiliar left wing-back position and Sebastian Goivinco partnered Alessandro Matri up top.
Napoli played their usual 3-4-2-1 with Goran Pandev replacing the departed Ezequiel Lavezzi. The early pattern of the match reflected both sides’ play last season; Juventus probed and attacked while Napoli hit them on the counter. Napoli, naturally, struck first with a goal practically out of nowhere. A throw in deep in their own half was quickly played out to Edinson Cavani, who beat Juventus’ extremely high defensive line. The Uruguayan found himself one-on-one with Gianluigi Buffon only to see the keeper push the ball off his foot. Cavani recovered, and swept the ball in past a sliding Buffon to give Napoli the early lead.
The advantage wouldn’t last long however as Juventus drew level in the 37th minute through new boy Asamoah. A deep cross from Arturo Vidal found the Ghanaian at the edge of the area as Asamoah struck the ball first time on the volley. Napoli keeper Morgan De Sanctis could have admittedly done better even though the ball took a slight hop in front of him. A mere few minutes later saw Napoli retake the lead through Goran Pandev; the Macedonian out-muscled Bonucci for the ball outside the area, continued to fend him off inside the box, and eventually chipped the ball over Buffon. The half ended 2-1 in Napoli’s favor, proving that they have lately become Juventus’ bogey team.
Into the second half Napoli continued to play tough, uncompromising football, and this would come back to bite them when in 71st minute, Federico Fernandez unwisely went in on Mirko Vucinic from behind in the area, leaving the referee no choice but to blow the whistle. Arturo Vidal duly converted from the spot to see the Bianconeri draw level once again.
Things only got worse for Napoli from there. Pandev, the hero from the first half, apparently swore at the line judge in the 85th minute, leading to a straight red card. A few minutes later wing-back Camilo Zuniga received his second yellow of the day to reduce Napoli to nine men going into extra-time.
Juventus took the lead for good in the 97th minute via a Christian Maggio own goal off an Andrea Pirlo freekick. Five minutes later, Mirko Vucinic put the match beyond reach for Napoli after a nice team goal via a cutting Giovinco pass and a Claudio Marchisio flick allowing Vucinic to slot the ball home from close range; the reigning Serie A champions would hold on to win 4-2. The trophy presentation became a bizarre scene as the Napoli players refused to collect their runners-up medals due to what they perceived as biased officiating against them.
Overall the match played similarly to last season’s andata between the two clubs, with Napoli taking the lead only to see Juventus fight back for a draw. The Neapolitans always tend to push Juventus to the brink, and Saturday’s match was no exception. Pandev definitely stood out for last season’s Coppa Italia winners, and if he continues to play like this (and keep control of his temper), Lavezzi’s presence will not be entirely missed, especially if Lorenzo Insigne lives up to expectations.
For Juventus, it was interesting to see how the team hardly skipped a beat without Conte on the bench. His stand-in, Massimo Carrera, did an admirable job; replacing Matri with Vucinic after halftime worked out perfectly as the Montenegrin won the penalty and netted the decisive goal in addition to creating numerous chances to score during normal time. Asamoah played extremely well in an unfamiliar role, and looks to be another excellent signing by sporting director Beppe Marotta. If the testiness in this match was anything to go by, then we’re in for a highly competitive Serie A this year.