Juventus avenged their Supercoppa Italiana misfortunes to claim their first win at the San Paolo in 14 years.
Massimiliano Allegri handed Martin Caceres a start at right back for Stephan Lichtsteiner, while Arturo Vidal sat ahead of Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba.
Rafa Benitez also opted to leave his attacking six unchanged with Jonathan De Guzman joining Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon in an attacking trio behind Gonzalo Higuain.
In another slow burning contest between two of the top sides in the country, Juventus’ clinical finishing in front of goal was enough to sink Napoli.
While Allegri and Benitez adopted the same attacking personnel, both managers were reluctant to stray away from their initial Super Coppa shape. Unsurprisingly, this meant that the pattern of the match didn’t differ, as the slow, patient buildups that lacked creativity and guile in the final third were evident at the San Paolo.
With both sides displaying discipline and organization without the ball, the non-existent fluidity in attack led to a static, uninspiring match. Put simply, Juve dominated possession, and Napoli intended on breaking quickly in transition.
Without the ball
However, here Napoli were better structured when they dropped into two deep banks of four. Walter Gargano and David Lopez limited space between the lines ahead of the back four, and they received help from De Guzman who tucked infield to limit space in central areas.
Ultimately, this was a logical approach considering Allegri’s decision to field four ball-playing midfielders, as there was an evident lack of invention in central areas. While Callejon was responsible for negating Patrice Evra, Caceres received space on the right to exploit due to De Guzman being pulled into the midfield battle. Oddly, Caceres was reluctant to push forward into this space, yet when the Uruguayan advanced forward he forced Rafael Cabral to make a key save, and delivered a well-weighed ball across the six-yard box that his teammates failed to attack.
Juve equally dropped deeper into a 4-4-1-1 without the ball, opposed to pressing higher up the pitch. Marchisio and Pogba pushed out into wide areas, Pirlo monitored Hamsik’s movement, and Tevez dropped off to track the deep lying Napoli midfielder.
Napoli struggled to create chances from open play, but they continued to pose a threat in transition. The home side’s best – and sole – chance in the opening half saw Hamsik run past three Juventus midfielders, before the ball fell to De Guzman in the box, but the Dutch international skied the ball over the net.
Juventus lacks variety in attack
The one worry for Allegri moving forward was the overall quality of the performance. While Juve dominated possession, and were rarely tested for large portions of the match, both penetration and guile remain non-existent in big matches.
Pogba’s opener was a moment of individual brilliance, while Caceres’ winner was a well-executed set piece combined with poor marking. Juventus didn’t cope well against Napoli’s reactive approach, and with a shortage of creative options available in the final third, Allegri’s side were bound to encounter difficulties.
Juve were often free to play out the back with Pirlo dropping in between centre backs Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci to play the first pass, but the admirable work from Lopez, De Guzman and Gargano deprived the away side from linking midfield and attack. With Vidal fielded in a trequartista role, the Chilean’ successfully completed tackles higher up the pitch, but his powerful runs from deep were sorely missed.
Allegri’s midfield quartet lacked ideas in central areas, and there was a vast difference in terms of attempted take-ons across the pitch. The decision to overload central areas with ball-playing midfielders wasn’t necessarily incorrect, but Napoli’s ability to maintain a compact shape, along with a lack of variety in attacking areas worked against the current champions.
Tevez – Higuain
Tevez and Higuain were the key men in the Supercoppa Italiana final, scoring both goals for their respected clubs, but the Argentinian strikers were ineffective at the San Paolo. The former was involved in Juve’s best moves in last month’s encounter, while the latter served as a reliable reference point in the box.
Here, there was minimal space for Tevez to operate in between the lines. Nonetheless, the Juventus striker was involved in some of their best moves, as his incisive pass should have resulted in a Caceres goal, and he was involved in the buildup to Pogba’s opener.
Higuain, on the other hand, struggled because Napoli sat too deep out of possession. The Napoli striker was involved in his side’s sole break in the opening half, but his involvement was scarce due to Benitez’s caution.
Second half changes
Apart from an individual slalom from Lopez in the opening minutes of the second half, the pattern of the match remained unchanged until Benitez introduced Dries Mertens for Hamsik. De Guzman moved to a central role, and Napoli gained an additional direct threat through the Belgian. Mertens’ impact was immediate, as he constantly ran at Caceres – resulting in the Uruguayan receiving a booking – whilst earning, and delivering the corner that led to Miguel Britos’ equalizer.
Allegri quickly responded to taking the lead shortly after Caceres’ goal, by replacing Pogba for Lichtsteiner. Juve sat deeper in the final 20 minutes, reverting to a 5-3-2, with Vidal and Marchisio drifting wide to protect their wingbacks from being overloaded.
Benitez reacted by introducing Manolo Gabbiadini and Duvan Zapata, thus moving to a traditional 4-4-2. Napoli was handed the onus to break down Allegri’s side, but only received chances in the latter stages of stoppage time: Mertens intercepted Angelo Ogbonna’s stray pass and slid in Zapata, but he overran the ball and was booked for simulation. Then, Mertens’ penetrative pass into the box for Higuain, nearly led to an equalizer, but Giorgio Chiellini’s last-ditch tackle preserved Juve’s lead.
The decision to introduce Mertens improved Napoli’s impetus, but the timing of Caceres winner, along with Allegri’s alteration to a five-man defence, halted Napoli’s attempt to claim an equalizer.
A second tilt between the two sides in the last month resulted in a dire encounter that relied on clinical finishing, opposed to an abundance of tactical themes.
Benitez’s attempt to thwart Juventus’ activity in open play was nearly successful, but their threat on the counter was limited. Neither side offered enough creativity and guile in the final third or central areas, and found joy in wide areas.
Although neither side was fully deserving of maximum points, Allegri’s Juve proved that they have enough talent to overcome poor performances, and cruise past their domestic rivals.