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Slovan Bratislava 0, Napoli 2 Europa League Match Recap: Local hero makes good

Marek Hamsik scored in his return to his former stomping grounds, and Napoli won their second straight match in their Europa League group to take the first spot after two rounds.

Tullio M. Puglia

A solid effort from Napoli saw them take all three points for a second time in their Europa League group, as well as some poetry in motion as Marek Hamsik scored and assisted in the stadium where he started his career.

Napoli started off slowly, content to hold possession and poke around at a very compact Slovan Bratislava defense. Gokhan Inler took his trademark shot-from-way-too-far-away-to-do-any-good less than a minute in, but otherwise Napoli didn't take a lot of chances early. That seemed to be fairly strategic in nature; Slovan were struggling to maintain possession and were chasing Napoli players like demons, so the partenopei were content to allow their hosts to wear themselves down and wait for a mistake to open an opportunity.

It took more than half an hour, but that chance came. Kalidou Koulibaly had been playing a number of quality long balls from the back line, and in the 35th minute, he sent one to Marek Hamsik, who'd found space in the box right in front of goal. Dusan Pernis rushed out of goal to try and clear the ball, but he missed his punch and Hamsik was given a free header at goal that he took excellently. His celebration was somewhat muted considering that this was once his home crowd, but the massive grin on Marekiaro's face was all you needed to see just how much this meant for him to score that goal.

Napoli were able to more or less control the match from there, though the second half saw Slovan generate a few hair-raising chances. Marko Milinkovic came on at the half and quickly demonstrated that he should have been playing all along, wreaking havoc on Napoli's back line. He was mostly picking on Britos, but both Faouzi Ghoulam and Christian Maggio had issues with him as he was given free reign to roam around. Fortunately for Napoli, Milinkovic's finishing touch was juuuust a little bit off, as three glorious chances he created through individual efforts were left wanting.

Seeking the security of a second goal, Rafa Benitez brought of Duvan Zapata, who had a solid match if not quite up to his usual standards, and put on Gonzalo Higuain. Pipita's first touch was to win a free kick roughly 30 yards from goal; that free kick was sent to Hamsik, who ran towards the left edge of Slovan's penalty area and launched a gorgeous, inch-perfect cross off the far post, one that Higuain expertly headed in with his second touch of the match.

From there it was mostly a matter of holding on for the end of the match. Slovan would generate a couple more chances, but couldn't capitalize on them, and Napoli came out of the stadium with a comfortable win. Hamsik was taken out of the match with a little over ten minutes to go, and was given a warm ovation by the home crowd after a stellar match by their returning hero.

After the struggles and dramas of this season so far, this match was exactly what Napoli needed: a calm, collected performance with quality goals and low stress levels. If they can repeat this kind of performance against Torino this weekend, it'll go a long ways towards repairing the damages done earlier in the season.

With Young Boys losing away to Sparta Prague by a final of 3-1, this win puts Napoli in first place in the group as the only team with two wins. They also currently hold a slight edge in goal differential, as their five goals for and one against stands better than Young Boys' six for and three against. Poor Slovan are in dead last with a lot of ground to make up, with zero points through two matches and a steep -7 goal differential to make up.

Slovan Bratislava: Pernis; Cikos, Ninaj,Gorosito, Jablonsky; Kubik (Zofcak 71'), Grendel (Milinkovic 46'), Lasik (Kolcak 85'), Peltier; Halenar; Soumah

Goals: None

Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Koulibaly, Britos, Ghoulam; Inler, Lopez; Mertens, Hamsik (Mesto 79'), De Guzman (Callejon 63'); Zapata (Higuain 74')

Goals: Hamsik 35'; Higuain 74'