Juventus extended their Serie A lead to 16 points after a 2-1 win at second-placed Napoli which hinged on a first-half red card for the home team’s goalkeeper Alex Meret.
Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti provided a typically eloquent summary of the decision to send off Meret, calmly and thoughtfully explaining why he thought it was the wrong call.
Twenty-five minutes into the game, Napoli fullback Kevin Malcuit’s back pass was intercepted by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Meret came rushing out of his penalty area and lunged at the Portuguese, who jumped over his outstretched leg and went to ground.
Meret was sent off for denying Ronaldo a clear scoring chance. However, replays suggested that he made no contact with Ronaldo as the Portuguese evaded his leg.
“(Meret) did not touch Ronaldo and did not attempt to foul him,” said Ancelotti.
“You also have to consider the direction the ball was going and the fact that (Napoli midfielder) Allan might have been able to recover.
He added: “Cristiano might not have been able to get on to that ball anyway. It was going towards the corner flag.”
Ancelotti was left asking the same question as many observers: given that Serie A uses VAR, why did the referee not view the incident himself on the pitchside monitor?
Juventus did not play particularly well but took advantage of a break that went their way in the first half, then survived a second-half pummelling from Napoli and had a lucky escape when Lorenzo Insigne missed a late penalty for the hosts.
In short, it was a typical Juventus win.
“We can’t win in the way that Juventus did tonight, as we have other very different qualities,” said Ancelotti.
“Juventus have great temperament and organisation whereas we have more technique and quality and have to focus on those to win.”
Napoli defender Nikola Maksimovic echoed Ancelotti’s comments.
“It’s always like that with Juventus. Napoli play good football, attack and dominate, but we always concede a goal and lose because of some mistake or a set piece,” he said.
“We must learn from Juve on how to make the most from corners, free kicks and other set pieces.
You don’t notice the 16-point difference when we play each other but they win games that we don’t.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri conceded that his team did it the hard way. “We suffered in the right way and in the important moments,” he said.
Juve’s opening goal was the first they have scored from a free kick in Serie A this season, Miralem Pjanic floating the ball over a poorly-organised wall and into the net.
It may just be coincidence but, until recently, Ronaldo had a virtual monopoly on taking free kicks for the Turin side. The more democratic approach appears to have paid off.
Pjanic had a mixed night as he opened the scoring in the 28th minute.
Pjanic was booked six minutes later and then sent off two minutes into the second half for needlessly handling the ball in midfield.
“I went from euphoria over the goal to a sense of guilt for leaving my team mates with 10 men,” said the Bosnia international. “I apologise to everyone.”
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said: “I knew Pjanic was at risk but I didn’t expect him to handle.”
Meanwhile, Torino and Atlanta remained unlike candidates, albeit outsiders, for a place in the Champions League next season after they both won and Inter Milan lost.
After Inter went down 2-1 at Cagliari on Friday, Torino beat Chievo 3-0 and Atalanta came from behind to beat Fiorentina 3-1.
With 12 matches still to play, only seven points separate Milan in third place (48 points) from Atlanta in eighth with Inter, AS Roma, Lazio and Torino sandwiched in between.
The top four qualify for the Champions League.
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