Wow. What a match. What a performance. The goals, the defending, all of it. A clean sheet. A top-class win.
Napoli got off to an incredible start, piling pressure all over Roma from the first kick. Chances came fast and furious, and it took only two minutes for Napoli to score, with Gonzalo Higuain coming up with an incredible, acrobatic, jaw-dropping strike to put Napoli ahead. That goal served not only to kick-start Napoli's match, but as proof positive that Pipita has fully emerged from his early-season slump.
Napoli weren't satisfied with just that early effort, though. They pushed forward again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Over and over they won the ball back from Roma and immediately pushed forward fast and hard to pin Roma back and try to find another breakthrough. Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, and Higuain all had chances come in droves, but just-off finishing and an effective offside trap from Roma kept the scoreline at 1-0.
As the half wore on, though, a hush born of nerves started to settle over the Napoli fans watching the match. Three goals were chalked off for offsides, and a combination of finishing not quite being on the mark and desperate defending from Roma cost them two or three more at least in the first half. Napoli were ascendant, rampant, on the front foot, whatever you want to call it, but they weren't getting another goal out of it. There was a feeling that, with the subs Roma had available and the pure talent of the side, if Napoli didn't put the match away, they'd come to pay for it.
They almost did in the second half. Napoli came out of the break a little flat, and Roma came out shooting from the hip. The giallorossi were all over Napoli's defense, and it took some incredible heroics from David Lopez, Rafael Cabral, and especially Kalidou Koulibaly to keep Roma from scoring. Koulibaly was all over the place in defense, blowing up Roma players with tackles, cutting out passes, blocking shots, clearing corners, and doing everything he could to make his presence felt. He even got rumbling way up the pitch on a counter attack, streaking up the right and setting up Callejon perfectly one-on-one with the keeper before Ziggy scuffed his finish and a Roma defender was able to clear the ball almost off the line.
Rafael also deserves note, as his goalkeeping form today was reminiscent of his form from last season before he went down injured. The Brazilian has been very good this season, but he hasn't quite had that form since he went down holding his knee against Swansea. Today, though, he was assured, he was snappy, and he made all the right decisions, including a perfectly-executed punched clearance that virtually took the ball off Radja Nainggolan's head and prevented a sure goal.
As the second half wore on, Roma started to wear out and Napoli were able to slowly reassert control again. The partenopei struggled some after Rafa Benitez started making substitutions, especially after he made the bizarre choice to haul off Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne, his two best performers in the attack in the first half, Higuain's stellar goal aside. But then, as the last ten minutes of regular time ticked away, Koulibaly sprung another corner, setting Higuain free up the right side with Callejon again racing up the middle. Higuain picked his cross well, and this time Callejon left no doubt to his finish, firing a bullet in to the back of the net to put the match away.
The whole thing was a wonderful, complete performance the likes of which we have not seen Napoli put in in far too long. Even when Roma were dominating the run of play in the second half, they got just two shots away, as Napoli's defense were able to do enough to force the ball out of dangerous areas. This is the kind of Napoli that we expected coming in to the season. It took awhile, but we've finally seen it, and it is amazing.
Forza Napopli sempre.
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Jorginho, David Lopez; Callejon, Hamsik (Gargano 66'), Insigne (Mertens 71'); Higuain
Goals: Higuain 2'; Callejon 85'
Roma: De Sanctis; Torosidis, Manolas, Yanga-Mbiwa, Holebas; Pjanic, Keita, Nainggolan; Florenzi, Totti, Gervinho