A stout defensive pairing
Juventus’ availability issues were incomparable to Napoli’s. Although, Allegri did have a mini-crisis at centre-back with Giorgio Chiellini testing positive for COVID-19 and Leonardo Bonucci ruled out due to injury.
As a result, the much unfavoured Daniele Rugani was thrust into the limelight for just his third start this season (second in Serie A). So far, Rugani has proved a steady presence alongside Matthijs de Ligt but on Thursday, he produced a performance that the Juve stalwarts would’ve admired.
His function was basic alongside the Dutchman, but he couldn’t have performed it any better. The Italian was secure with the ball, completing 95.5% of his passes and registering five progressive passes, and diligent in his defensive work. Rugani didn’t blow away the stats sheet (one tackle, one block, one interception and three clearances) because much of his astute work was unquantifiable. He never dove in, his positioning was immaculate and he worked in harmony with the more aggressive De Ligt.
The Dutchman saw much more of Mertens than Rugani and he kept him quiet for the most part. The defender was never caught out by the Belgian’s drifts out wide and he unsurprisingly physically overwhelmed the Napoli marksman whenever they duelled in central areas. De Ligt’s aggression has been tempered to an optimal level. He’s so in control of his actions and that was distinct on Thursday.
By the end, De Ligt ended with a team-high five blocks and many of his interventions were crucial in denying potentially goal-bound efforts from reaching Wojciech Szczesny.
In tandem, the pair resembled a throwback centre-back partnership and while De Ligt’s class shone through, Rugani showed that he’s more reliable than some gave him credit for heading into 2021/22, especially when he’s partnered by one of Europe’s best.