It was billed as the scudetto showdown, but the big match between Juve and Napoli came and went without much fanfare.
The game itself was less than spectacular, and a 1-0 win at home for the Bianconeri, on a goal from a deflected shot, hardly left anyone with the impression that either side was clearly superior to the other. Add to that the resumption of European play and Juve’s subsequent Friday night nil-nil draw to Bologna, and the biggest game of the season seems like a distant and unremarkable memory.
All of that said, there was some insight to be gleaned from the 90 minutes played at Juventus stadium. The fact that Napoli appeared to be on par with Juventus, both during the match and for the majority of the season thus far, is a something of an accomplishment considering the fact that no team has managed to come anywhere near the quality and consistency of Allegri’s side for the better part of three years.
Napoli actually seemed to be taking the game to their opponents for the first 15 minutes or so, and perhaps the end result could have looked different had Insigne and Higuain not run out of gas well before their counterparts from Torino. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of fitness, or maybe it’s down to Sarri being forced to use the same starting lineup week after week, but the fact that Juventus looked fresher and stronger as the match progressed doesn’t bode well for Napoli in the long run. Indeed, it would be wise for Napoli supporters to actually root for Juventus in Champions League play.
For reasons not entirely clear to anyone outside of il bel paese, Italian teams have always snubbed the Europa League. Coaches regularly rest their best players, and fan turnout for home matches, even in the elimination phase, is paltry at best. So in the wake of their away loss to Villarreal (where Higuain, Insigne and Allan were left out of the starting lineup), Napoli are likely to shift 100% of their attention to winning the scudetto or, at the very least, securing a spot in the much more prestigious Champions League next year.
Should that be the case, if Juventus manages to knock out Bayern Munich and continue playing in Europe’s toughest competition, it could very well equal out the energy levels of the two teams entering the final stretch of the Serie A season.
In other news, there is of course the story consuming everything in the world of calcio south of Milano: the latest chapter in the Francesco Totti saga. The Roma legend has barely seen the pitch since Spalletti took over for Rudy Garcia as coach, and subbing him into the Roma-Real Madrid Champion’s League match in the 86th minute most certainly did more harm than good.
The rumor was Totti had made some off-hand remarks to journalists reflecting his displeasure after the match, but all speculation became pointless when the Roma captain granted a full interview to RAI in which he minced no words. He is unhappy with his lack of playing time and unnerved by the lack of clarity about his position with the team. Adding pressure to the situation is the fact that Totti’s contract will expire at the end of the season, and he would like to understand what role, if any, he has in the club’s plans for the near future.
Spalletti reacted to the interview by excluding Totti completely from the lineup (for a game in which it was rumored he would be in the starting eleven), and predictably that sparked something of, well, a shitstorm. The fans went crazy, the press went even crazier, the hashtag “iostoconTotti” (I’m with Totti) was born, there were reports that a fight nearly broke out between the Roma supporters backing the coach and those siding with the captain, and a previously innocuous match against Palermo suddenly became a must win for Spalletti, for fear that the fans might tear the stadium down otherwise.
But Palermo rolled over and played dead for Roma (let the conspiracy theories fly), club president James Pallotta agreed to sit down face to face with Totti to try and find some sort of understanding, and Totti was back training with the first squad Monday morning. The edge has therefore been taken off for the time being, but the rift between the two parties, and the fans taking sides, remains large.
The team has been getting strong domestic results as of late, but as anyone who pays attention to the circus that is AS Roma can attest to, they are only one bad loss away from complete anarchy and incivility. But so goes that side of the city.
Sean Sedacca covers Italian soccer for Bigsoccerhead. You can also listen to Sean on the latest Bigsoccerhead Podcast.
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