Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A to 16 points with a dramatic 2-1 victory over nearest rivals Napoli in an action-packed clash at the Stadio Sao Paolo.
Keeper Alex Meret’s red card midway through the first half was a major blow for Napoli, with leading scorer Arkadiusz Milik making way so that back-up goalkeeper David Ospina could come on. Ospina’s first task was to pick the ball out of his net after Miralem Pjanic scored from the resulting free-kick.
Emre Can headed Juventus into a two-goal lead before half-time but Pjanic was sent off early in the second half, giving a glimmer of hope to Napoli who dominated the game thereafter.
Jose Callejon reduced the deficit after 61 minutes and Carlo Ancelotti’s team were given the opportunity to equalise and preserve their unbeaten home record this season with seven minutes remaining when they were awarded a penalty.
However, Lorenzo Insigne’s spot-kick hit a post and rolled across the face of the goal and to safety.
Napoli’s chance had gone and Juventus held on to set a club record of 26 away games unbeaten in Serie A, surpassing their previous best set between September 2011 and November 2012.
Napoli were unchanged after winning 4-0 at Parma last weekend but Massimiliano Allegri made changes to his Juventus side, switching to a 4-3-3 formation. There were recalls for Wojciech Szczesny, Giorgio Chiellini, Can and Pjancic.
There was little time and space early on before the match was paused for a minute’s applause in the 13th minute in honour of former Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who died a year ago to the day.
A mistake by Meret after 25 minutes presented the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, who was then brought down by the goalkeeper just outside the penalty area. It would be double punishment for Napoli, as Pjanic curled home a fine right-foot shot after Meret was sent off.
Despite the setback, Napoli nearly equalised straight away. Fabian Ruiz’s pass put Piotr Zielinski through on goal and his low shot beat Szczesny but struck the post.
Napoli continued to make light of their numerical disadvantage, without really troubling Szczesny again too much other than a couple of routine saves. So it was harsh on the hosts when Can headed home Federico Bernardeschi’s cross after 39 minutes to double Juventus’ lead.
Pjanic’s second yellow card two minutes into the second half gave Napoli a lift and Ancelotti’s team gave themselves a chance of staging a fightback just after the hour when Callejon nipped in front of Chiellini to slam the ball past Szczesny from close range following Insigne’s cross.
Napoli were now dominating possession inside the Juventus half and putting the Serie A leaders under enormous pressure. Szczesny was not extended too much but did make an important save to deny Zielinski from a tight angle down the left-hand side of the penalty area.
The hosts were awarded a penalty after 83 minutes when Alex Sandro was adjudged to have committed a foul during a corner. Insigne stepped up to take it but his shot struck the woodwork.
Juventus survived the remaining seven minutes plus five minutes of injury time to claim an important victory – a win which they must feel all but ends the title race.
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