A homecoming. A winning goal. A spectacular assist. A standing ovation on the road. A European victory. Marek Hamsik had himself a pretty damn good Thursday night.
Hamsik made his much-publicized return to the Stadion Pasienky, playing in the stadium and against the team where he made his professional debut and scored his first career goal. Frankly, it couldn't have gone much better; Marekiaro scored the opening goal, put in a fantastic shift in midfield, and fired in a gorgeous ball to assist on Napoli's second goal.
While his opening goal was certainly made easier by a goalkeeping error, it was a clever off-shoulder run that put Hamsik in position to capitalize on that mistake (and an amazing ball over the top by Kalidou Koulibaly). It was indicative of his match on a whole, and of his performances for the last five or six matches: smart runs, smart and creative passing, and a whole lot of heart and desire. As Hamsik put it when speaking to the media after the match, "[it] was a wonderful night."
"The important thing," Hamsik went on to add, "was to win in order to have six points in the table and we achieved that aim. Over the last couple of matches we have kept clean sheets and that gave us a lot of confidence." You could see that confidence on display as Napoli worked to keep the match in control and pick Slovan apart. It was reminiscent of some of Napoli's best performances last season, and is a hopeful sign of things to come.
For Hamsik's part, he's hoping that this performance will put some mounting criticism behind him. "People have been judging me harshly because I haven’t scored goals, but my performances were never that bad. Finally, the goal arrived as well tonight."
He's right about being judged harshly. Hamsik has been putting in steadily improving performances for weeks, looking more and more like the Hamsik of old. He struggled for much of last season after a couple injuries left him struggling for fitness, but this season has been much better in overall performance, albeit lacking in goals and assists thanks to the team struggling as a whole.
The Italian media haven't been judging his performances, however, only caring to look at his numbers. Those numbers have lead them to call him "broken", "shattered", "heartless", and even "overrated". Some of the blame has been put on Rafa Benitez for "misusing" Hamsik, but much of it has been pinned of the player himself. Hopefully a performance like today's will help open some eyes as to how well Hamsik has been playing this season, and hopefully those performances continue and even improve as the year goes on.