x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ranieri's luck changes

Juventus have a slice of luck in their 1-0 win over Napoli as they maintain their hold on second place in Serie A.

Juventus's Claudio Marchisio celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game in his team's win over Napoli.
Juventus's Claudio Marchisio celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game in his team's win over Napoli.

The sort of Juventus Claudio Ranieri imagines taking the field against Chelsea in the Champions League in 10 days time has a warrior look about it: plenty of experience, rugged in defence, capable of turning half-chances into goals, and doing so more than once in the 90 minutes. The Champions League remains a distraction for Juve, and so it should be. Though they have a hill to climb to make the quarter-finals this year, with a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their last-16 match against the Londoners, next year's competition is also to the forefront of Ranieri's mind.

Juve need to finish in the top three in Serie A to be guaranteed participation, and on Saturday they maintained their hold on second place, still too far behind Inter Milan to do much more than dream of a title challenge. Their 1-0 win at home to Napoli had a touch of good fortune about it, Claudio Marchisio's goal taking a deflection on its way in, but Ranieri will take a bit of Lucky Juve, as they used to be known, as part of their warrior identity.

Almost as pleasing to the head coach was the continued recuperation of the savvy, senior players who have spent much of the season out with injury. David Trezeguet started and finished the match at centre-forward and Hasan Salihamidzic, the Bosnian battler, came off the bench to shore up the winning margin in the second-half. The downside was the knee problem that obliged defender Nicola Legrottaglie to leave the field. He had collided with Gianluigi Buffon, his own goalkeeper.

Napoli, without a win since the first weekend back from the winter break, played some football worthy of at least a point and had a second-half goal ruled out for offside. Lucky Juve? Napoli certainly thought so. Lazio, whose form, like Napoli's, has plummeted since the new year, finally earned a win in Rome, where the visiting head coach, Bologna's Sinisa Mihailovic, had a bitter-sweet welcome from the club where he spent a large tranche of his playing career.

Mihailovic, once deadly with a free-kick at the Stadio Olimpico, would normally have appreciated the wonderful arc Mauro Zarate put on the dead ball for the game's opening goal nine minutes before the interval, but as it condemned his side he offered no applause. The fans did. Zarate, Lazio's best striker, had not scored at home for more than three months. He added his second 45 minutes after the first, a neatly taken finish to put the result, 2-0, beyond Mihailovic's men.

ihawkey@thenational.ae