Gonzalo Higuain had the lone tally in Juventus's huge 1-0 win over Napoli in Serie A.

By 90Min
December 01, 2017

Gonzalo Higuain had a (bandaged) hand in proceedings as Juventus stifled Napoli's attack to take an invaluable 0-1 win at the Stadio San Paolo on Friday night, and move the Old Lady to within a single point of their opposition at the Serie A summit. 

The clash between the two title rivals was deemed so important to the fans that the one of the city's most beloved TV shows 'Gomorrah' was released early so fans could watch both events.

Raul Albiol's return in the center of the defense was the only change for Napoli from the side that beat Udinese last weekend, while Mattia De Sciglio came in for the injured Stephan Lichtsteiner for the visitors.

The biggest surprise of the team sheets, however, was the inclusion of Gonzalo Higuain, who had been expected to miss the game after his hand surgery earlier in the week.

The eyebrow raising inclusion of the most unwelcome man in the Stadio San Paolo almost got the game off to a perfect start for the visitors inside five minutes, but Higuain's dink after beating the offside trap was blocked by Pepe Reina.

However, the hosts' nightmare scenario was only temporarily averted, as Higuain did find the net after 12 minutes when Juve sprung a devastating counter attack. Paulo Dybala's driving run and through ball split Napoli's normally air tight back line, with stand in left back Mario Rui caught out, and Higuain made no mistake with his second chance at goal at his old hunting ground.

Spurred on by the raucous home support, which has grown unaccustomed to losing positions, Marek Hamsik - still one goal shy of Diego Maradona's club record - stung the palms of Gianluigi Buffon a few minutes after the opener, while Lorenzo Insigne capitalized on a misplaced pass to force a corner with a long range curler.

However, Napoli's best chance to level in the half came from the resulting corner with Insigne stealing between the suspect zonal marking of Miralem Pjanic and De Sciglio to power a header at Buffon, which the 39-year-old veteran was equal to.

Juventus had not kept a clean sheet at the Stadio San Paolo in Serie A since 1997, and Napoli began the second half desperate to continue that 20-year run.

Jose Callejon swung a shot inches wide of Buffon's far post less than 10 minutes after the restart but, much like the first 45, Napoli were frequently forced out wide with Insigne and Dries Mertens limited to speculative half chances and crosses from outside their comfort zones.

The home support were briefly outraged at the referee's failure to give a penalty as Mertens took a tumble in the box under challenge from Giorgio Chiellini, but replays appeared to vindicate Daniele Orsato's call.

While Napoli labored to create genuine scoring opportunities against a resolute Juve defense, Massimiiano Allegri's side might have doubled their lead through Blaise Matuidi, whose powerful volley from less than 10 yards out was somehow turned over the bar by an alert Reina.

Things went from frustrating to down right depressing for Napoli when, after a collision with Buffon, talisman Insigne was forced off with a knock with just 15 minutes to go. 21-year Algeria international Adam Ounas, who had played just 57 Serie A minutes prior to this game, came on as his replacement.

After a entertaining start to the second half, Juventus' stellar defensive display ensured the most anticipated clash of the season so far ended with a whimper as Napoli failed to find an opening for what would have been their 36th league goal of the season.

Juventus' fifth away win of the season takes them up to second, at least until Inter play on Sunday, and to within a single point of Napoli.

Before the game voices from both teams were quick to insist that this game would not be a title decider. However, now the match is over, how Sarri's Scudetto-chasing side react to their first domestic defeat of the season may come to define their campaign.

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