Three first half goals, a multitude of bookings, and two red cards -- Napoli's visit to Florence certainly caused quite a stir. And while the viola will have plenty to wag their tongues about, that matters little to Napoli fans, as the three points are secured (or as secured as they can be; this is Italy after all) and the scudetto hasn't slipped even further out of reach.
The first half started out much as expected, with Napoli sitting quite deep, letting Fiorentina have possession and looking to hit on the counter. So there was really no surprise when Juan Cuadrado hit the side netting in the third minute. But the visitors very quickly proved that you don't need many chances -- you just have to make them count.
And boy, did José Callejón make Napoli's first chance count. The cross from Gonzalo Higuaín was exquisite, from the outside of his foot over to where Ziggy was lurking on the right. Callejón hit his shot on the volley, driving it into the far corner. Absolutely delicious.
It didn't take too long for Fiorentina to equalize, however. During a set piece, Federico Fernández shoved Stefan Savic in the back, sending him flying further than the defender had moved for much of the match. The referee cried foul and Giuseppe Rossi stepped to the spot. The tricky Rossi had Pepe Reina diving the other way as he sent the ball into the bottom right corner.
Cuadrado very nearly turned the game on its head just moments later, but his shot hit the upright. Instead it was Napoli that got the second goal, a lovely one from Dries Mertens. The Belgian won the ball and danced his way toward Neto's goal before squeezing his shot just inside the far post. That's Mertens' first goal in a Napoli shirt, by the way. At least, his first competitive goal. I'm not looking back through the preseason, sorry.
The second half was much more contentious than the first. Fiorentina, conscious of their need to get all three points in order to stay the pace with the top teams, continued to pile on the pressure. Rossi and Cuadrado were both particularly lively, and the former forced Reina into a diving save with a curling shot toward the near post. With the majority of time being spent in the Napoli half, it started to feel inevitable that the viola would at least find an equalizer.
Then, with ten minutes left to play, Christian Maggio earned himself a second yellow for a rather reckless tackle on Ryder Matos. But even with a man advantage, the hosts still struggled to create clear-cut chances -- possibly because they'd worn themselves out after 80 minutes of relentless onslaught. Desperation tipped over into indignation when, in injury time, Cuadrado was sent off with a second yellow. Again the Colombian was booked for diving; however, although the yellow in the first half was a fair response to a simulated fall, this time it did appear that Gökhan İnler had clipped Cuadrado's shin inside the area.
It was the case of the little Juan who cried wolf, and Fiorentina paid dearly for Cuadrado's earlier performance. With his exit, Napoli were able to see out the final few minutes of injury time and walk away from Florence with all three points. Thank goodness, as Juventus beat Catania 4-0 and AS Roma will have no trouble knocking in six or seven against Chievo Verona on Thursday.
***please forgive the lack of detail regarding the second half. Not only did I need to cover the Juventus match, but I also tended to close my eyes quite a bit***