By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
As cup final warm-ups go it told us nothing, but as a barometer for Juventus’ title credentials, their 3-0 victory over Napoli on Sunday night gave us everything we needed to know. The Bianconeri are in their best form of the season heading for the run-in, and Arturo Vidal is the man driving them on.
The Chilean played the starring role as the Old Lady saw off a Napoli side devoid of any real drive at a time of the year when they could really suffer for their post-Champions League blues. But that should take nothing away from just how dominant Juve were for long spells, and in the second half they reaped their rewards.
After Marco Borriello failed to turn in an Andrea Pirlo cross in the opening minutes, Juventus continued to create all the chances. Vidal, Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio made all the running in midfield, seeing off the threat of Gokhan Inler and Walter Gargano with apparent ease to lay the platform from which the men in pink (at home … again!) would eventually make hay.
|MATCH FACTS | Juventus 3-0 Napoli
Vidal did so much of the hard work in both defence and attack in a display of sheer magnificence. The Chilean was regularly responsible for winning back possession, so often the man leading the midfield charge, and also a willing exponent of a killer pass from any angle. His performance had almost everything.
Juve broke through on 53 minutes, and despite their dominance it was somewhat fortuitous. Pirlo’s free kick from the right wasn’t dealt with, and Mirko Vucinic’s shot cannoned off Leonardo Bonucci and found the net. It was certainly lucky, but it was definitely deserved.
The home side continued to do most of the attacking, with Edinson Cavani forced to win back possession in his own box at one point such was his inactivity further up the field. It seemed only a matter of time before the Bianconeri would finish it off, and it was Vidal’s crowning moment which ended the game as a contest.
Ghosting into position to the left of goal after the Partenopei gave away cheap possession, the former Bayer Leverkusen man shimmied and shook before throwing in a couple of step-overs to bamboozle Hugo Campagnaro on his way into a shooting position. From there he delivered a magnificent left-foot shot which gave Morgan De Sanctis no chance.
It was a fitting strike to clinch the victory. Fabio Quagliarella soon added a third when De Sanctis failed to deal with a powerful near-post drive, then Juan Zuniga petulantly saw red, and Napoli’s misery was complete.
Walter Mazzarri’s side have so far failed to take advantage of Lazio’s indifferent form and their own free midweeks as their bid for third place has foundered. Juve’s own Wednesdays off could increasingly help if Milan progress in the Champions League, but it is their current form which gives them their best hope of Scudetto glory.
Since dropping four points behind the Rossoneri, the Bianconeri have responded with their best run of the season. This weekend they cut that lead in half, but they mustn’t take their foot off the accelerator. With Vidal at the wheel, there appears little chance of them giving up just yet. A scrapper, an architect, a leader and a goalscorer; the Chilean could well be key to their once-fading title hopes.
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