Buffon unfairly beaten as Sarri's Juventus approach crisis point
Juventus was on the right track for the heights in early February. Their superiority is now under threat in Italy.
Coppa Italia's final loss to Napoli on Wednesday may have been just a penalty, but few could say the Bianconeri deserved it better than goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Napoli, who missed the suspended semi-final hero David Ospina, was the only team with a clear schedule in the incredibly quiet Stadio Olimpico. They had 15 shots on Juves 13 and seven on the goal of the three Serie A leaders, although they had slightly less possession.
Their trick was obvious, which they have followed rigorously since Gennaro Gattuso took office in December: a defiance from the ball, an obligation to counterattack, but only at the right moment. Catenaccio for the 21st century.
The worry for Juve is that a year after Maurizio Sarri became head coach, it's hard to know what her plan is.
Their chances were slim, the best was a snapshot of Cristiano Ronaldo in five minutes. At the other end, they were indebted to Buffon, the 42-year-old who flew over his line to keep Diego Demme, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens away. Matteo Politano and somehow Nikola Maksimovic and Eljif Elmas with a spectacular double parade in the second half of stoppage time.
He was largely helpless on the penalty shootout when Napoli scored all four goals after Paulo Dybala's attempt to be saved by Alex Meret and Danilo stalled, stuttered and hit his crossbar.
Juve has never looked sedentary under Sarri, but the results have been largely sufficient. They are top of Serie A a week before the top Italian division returns this week, but have won only four of their last ten games in all competitions. This includes a 0-1 defeat in Lyon that leaves their champions. The league hopes for another season.
Sarri, who had lost Supercoppa Italiana to Lazio earlier this season, was upset this week at suggestions that he was not a successful coach in Italy, referring to his eight promotions from the lower leagues.
That is not enough in Turin. Sarri was hired after scoring two finals (one won) in his only season with Chelsea. Chelsea, a man who was revered by parts of Italian football for his style of victory, not least at the old Napoli club, was brought to Juve to combine national dominance with European success, a way of making fans proud. They are far from it at the moment.
Napoli has fully earned his first trophy since 2014, no more than Gattuso, who lost his sister just weeks ago. His appointment was a gamble after a tricky saying for Milan, but it was rewarded. It's not all his fault, but Sarri's own season runs the risk of unraveling.
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