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Napoli vs Juventus: 5 observations from the Supercoppa clash in Doha
Benitez won his 12th trophy (10 or which are cups) and led Napoli to their second Supercoppa Italiana against the Bianconeri. That's what we learned from the game
by Anthony Pepe
The best striker in Serie A is Argentine. Whether the best striker in Serie A wears Napoli’s number nine or Juventus’ number ten is a more difficult question. Both men joined their respective clubs in the summer of 2013, both have scored 36 goals in all competitions since coming to Italy (Tévez in 70 games, Higuaín in 71), both are talismanic figures for their clubs, both have brought trophies to their clubs and both scored two goals in the Supercoppa, although Tévez missed his penalty in the shoot-out.

Ex-Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella seems to rate Gonzalo over Carlitos (omitted from Argentina’s World Cup squad) while a panel of experts (including retired Argentine hitman Hernán Crespo) in the Guardian have rated Tévez as the 41st best player in the world, while Higuaín was rated 68th. In short, they’re both extremely talented forwards who can change games and win trophies when they’re on song, and both only increase the quality and glamour of Serie A. The only differences between the players (besides playing style) is age and attitude. Tévez may have arrived with a bad boy status after having left both Manchester clubs on bad terms but since arriving at Juve he has been nothing but a model professional, loved by his fans and teammates.

Higuaín is almost four years younger than his compatriot and perhaps still needs to mature. His attitude has been criticised by more than one contributor to this website and rightly so, however, when he performs and behaves as he did in Doha he is a world class talent. Fans of Serie A will hope he keeps it up for the rest of the season.

Napoli are frustratingly inconsistent. Once again Napoli have shown that they can compete with any team they meet in a one-off situation. Last season Napoli beat Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Juve and Roma yet failed to challenge for the Scudetto. This season Napoli have beaten Juve, Roma and Fiorentina yet find themselves 12 points off the top of the table. Players like Higuaín, Callejón, Albiol and Koulibaly have all shown themselves capable of delivering scintillating and abominable performances in equal measure. The question that the fans and, increasingly, President Aurelio De Laurentiis have been asking is why the players can’t seem to focus for anything but the biggest games.

Higuaín is a guaranteed goal in every single big game listed above yet failed to get on the score sheet against teams like Empoli, Chievo and Torino. Higuaín was asked precisely this question by a RAI reporter after the final in Doha and he assured everyone that with the right motivation and focus Napoli can do something important in the second half of the season. Whether this inconsistency is a fault of player focus or of the manager is open to debate, but it should be noted that precisely the same accusations were levelled at Rafael Benitez when he was the Liverpool manager.

Benitez won his 12th career trophy in Doha, 10 of which were cups. Benitez has not won a league title for a decade (2003-2004 Valencia) and is known as a cup specialist; this is clear by seeing which games his teams win and which they don’t.

Juventus are still missing a cutting edge. Juventus have one of the best midfields in world football and clearly the best in Italy, and have a striker like Tévez who is able to create space thanks to his stunning work rate and can finish chances well. While Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal are three of the best players in the world, none of the three do their best work in the attacking third. Pirlo is the master architect but from very deep, Vidal is a clinical and lively finisher (but a long way from full fitness) while Pogba is a true box-to-box player. Giovinco is not the answer to any question ever asked by a football manager and while Tévez may wear the number 10 and is loved by the Juve fans he is not a like for like replacement for Del Piero.

It may sound ludicrous to suggest that with all their talented players that Juve lack a cutting edge but they are missing a piece of the puzzle, a player like Miralem Pjanić, or Eden Hazard or James Rodríguez. Llorente is not capable of inventing goals as Tévez can, and while Juve lack a player who lives in the final third rather than merely venturing in (as Pogba frequently does with success) they will struggle to score as many goals as their possession deserves, as shown against Napoli and Atlético Madrid.

Napoli’s defence is still shambolic. On paper Raul Albiol is a top drawer centre back boasting world class experience with Real Madrid and Spain. Kalidou Koulibaly was signed as one of Europe’s hottest defensive prospects and some of his performances for Napoli have seen scouts from Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Real Madrid take a serious look at him; his transfer value has seemingly doubled since the summer. Goalkeeper Rafael Cabral only missed the World Cup due to a pair of long-term injuries interrupting his rhythm and Dunga is impressed with what he’s seen from the young custodian (24 years old). He has been inconsistent (that word again) this season, however that is to be expected from a young keeper who always recovers from his mistakes.

He showed in Doha what he’s made of, with impressive shot-stopping and two penalty saves, one of which from Padoin’s attempt was outstanding. So what is wrong with Napoli’s defence? The mistake which gifted Tévez his first goal was a carbon copy of one made against Athletic Bilbao in the CL play-off. For some reason Koulibaly and Albiol struggle when paired together despite seeming like they should complement each other. It could be a language barrier as Koulibaly is far from fluent in Italian yet, but what is clear is that they both like to attack the ball.

They seem incapable of deciding which one of them is supposed to attack the ball and which is supposed to cover. If Benitez can fix this so they can play together then Napoli could be a formidable unit and quite frankly it should be his absolute priority. Finally, the defensive options on the bench are weak. Henrique is nothing more than an adequate player and fit for a squad role with Napoli but not reliable enough if there was an injury crisis, while Miguel Britos is categorically not good enough for Napoli and would likely struggle at any Serie A club either at left back or his preferred centre back position. Juan Zúñiga can’t return to fitness fast enough and De Laurentiis announced that he has gifted Ivan Strinić (Croatian international left back) to the club but Benitez has his work cut out for him.

Paul Pogba will be the best player in the world. Paul Pogba can do everything. He is built like a tank but he’s fast, he’s 188cm yet can dribble like Tévez, he can finish in the six yard box and he can score from 30 metres, he can tackle and pressurise like Vidal and can almost pass like Pirlo. In Doha he gave a near flawless performance and did not deserve to be on the losing side, his showing that of a seasoned professional rather than a 21 year old youngster.

In moments of difficulty for his side he was able to both tackle a marauding Higuaín and then distribute beautifully, before artfully dribbling two tackling midfielders and then slipping the perfect pass for Tévez to score his second. He dispatched his penalty with calm and aplomb and both Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri and France manager Didier Deschamps recognise that Pogba can only improve.

The only question that Juve and Serie A fans need to ask is how long we will be able to enjoy this Rolls Royce of a player as even the Juventus hierarchy have admitted that it is only a matter of time before moneyed clubs like Real Madrid or Manchester City (Pogba is the ideal replacement for Yaya Touré) come knocking and everyone knows that Juventus is a selling club, when the price is right.

Wednesday, December 24 th, 2014
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