It is too early to declare the title race over. Too early to assume Juventus’ remarkable run of consecutive Serie A crowns will yield an eighth. But the reigning champs took a long early-season stride in that direction on Saturday.
Juve came from behind to beat Napoli 3-1 in its first true test of the 2018-19 season, and the first clash of legitimate contenders. The Bianconeri went six points clear at the top of the table after just seven weeks. They put their stamp on Serie A once again, asserted their Italian dominance once again.
And they did it all on the back of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo didn’t find the back of the net. He missed multiple chances, and flung Portuguese expletives into the Torino night even with three points secure. But he created the equalizer. And the winner. And the clincher. He played as complete a game as one can without scoring.
Juventus’ megastar rolled back the years to put goal No. 1 on a platter for Mario Mandzukic. He turned Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj inside and out on the left wing, just as he would Premier League fullbacks last decade, and lifted a pinpoint cross onto Mandzukic’s head:
Dries Mertens had given Napoli a deserved lead inside 10 minutes. But the hosts seized the game around midway through the first half.
They then doubled their lead shortly after halftime. Ronaldo struck the near post with a 25-yard drive. It rebounded right into the path of Mandzukic, who tapped in for a second.
After Mario Rui was sent off, via a second yellow card, for a reckless tackle on Paulo Dybala, Leonardo Bonucci stabbed home a third. It was Ronaldo’s flick, perhaps headed for the far corner, on which the Italian defender pounced.
Juve was not and is not untouchable. Napoli is by no means dead and buried.
But the challengers, under Carlo Ancelotti, lack the control and bite they had under Maurizio Sarri. And the kings … well, they now have Ronaldo. They’re more potent. They’re perfect through seven games. And it is going to take quite the uprising to end their run.