Napoli came in to this match riding a three-match streak of wins and clean sheets, but no clean sheet is safe against Cagliari and Zemanlandia. Napoli threw away a 2-0 first half lead, and could only hold a second half lead for five minutes as they trudged their way to a disappointing performance and a 3-3 draw.
Napoli got things off to a roaring start, dominating possession early and getting several scoring threats together almost before Cagliari had realized that there was a match being played. There were clearly some growing pains in evidence with trying to work Jonathan De Guzman in to the attacking midfield band alongside Marek Hamsik, but there were more positives to see than negatives.
Just over ten minutes in, Napoli were able to catch Cagliari sleeping. Faouzi Ghoulam was getting ready to launch a throw-in when Gonzalo Higuain took off on a run behind Cagliari's line while no one seemed to be paying attention. Ghoulam arced his throw perfectly, and Higuain finished neatly past a stunned goalkeeper to give Napoli the early lead.
The famed "Zemanlandia" all-out attack was still taking time to get going, time that Napoli continued to take advantage of. They had several close-but-not-quite chances, but nothing that quite came off right. Then Christian Maggio picked out De Guzman making a run at goal and sent in a cross, aiming to put it at his feet for a tap-in. Cagliari's goalkeeper, Alessio Cragno, read it well and was able to clear the cross away.... but Gokhan Inler was at the far end of it, and somehow, finally, he got one of his long range thunderbolts to land home.
Going down 2-0 seemed to be just the wakeup call that Cagliari needed, because almost immediately after the goal, they started attacking relentlessly. Walter Gargano in midfield and Henrique Buss in central defense had both been struggling with possession and marking earlier in the match, and both quickly became overwhelmed in the face of Zemanlandia being unleashed on them. It came as little surprise, then, when both were involved in the blame for Victor Ibarbo pulling one back for the visitors less than ten minutes after Inler had doubled Napoli's lead.
Napoli were able to make it to the half without further incident (though not without close calls), but it took only second in to the second half before things went off the rails. The half opened with Henrique clattering Andrea Cossu on one of the first touches of the half, giving Cagliari a free kick in a dangerous position. Rossettini struck the shot, and Henrique lost all grasp of where Diego Farias was on the pitch, allowing the striker to nod home virtually unopposed.
That left the scoreline equal, and Napoli had a ton of work to do just to get the momentum swinging in their favor again. They slowly managed to get themselves working well together again after falling apart late in the first half, but frustration was clearly settling in for the hosts. There was an edge of desperation and anger to their play that didn't do anything to help proceedings.
Napoli were able to get things really clicking for a few minutes around the hour mark, though, and that lead to Maggio and De Guzman finally connecting on a goal. The lead lasted just five minutes, though, as Kalidou Koulibaly had a jaw-droppingly poor defensive moment that let Ibarbo slip free and feed Farias, who Maggio and Henrique had tried and failed miserably to double-mark, for a second goal.
That second equalizer took the wind out of the sails of the match, and neither side were able to put together a truly great chance to score again. That's not to say that there weren't nervy moments for both squads, but none of them ever really came to anything.
Watching Napoli throw away points to a side that they should have beaten handily once again is, at best, disheartening. What's worse, though, is that Napoli looked completely unprepared for the attacking onslaught that they faced through long stretches of the match, which is shocking to consider.
This is Zdenek Zeman we're talking about. His teams have three modes: attack, attack more, and send the 'keeper forward to join the attack. Seeing them play like this shouldn't have been surprising, but yet Napoli looked shellshocked at times. To be caught off guard by something so utterly predictable is... well, it's really bad. Questions have been asked in the past of how Rafa prepares his squad for matches, and those questions will likely be louder than ever in the next few days.
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Henrique, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Gargano, Inler (Lopez 64'); Callejon, Hamsik, De Guzman (Britos 82'); Higuain
Goals: Higuain 11', Inler 29', De Guzman 63'
Cagliari: Cragno; Balzano, Ceppitelli, Rossettini, Pisano (Capuano 83'); Dessena (Donsah 77'), Crisetig, Ekdal; Ibarbo (Caio 90'), Farias, Cossu
Goals: Ibarbo 37', Farias 47', 68'