A heavily rotated Napoli side dominated a defensive Young Boys setup, keeping a small-but-loud San Paolo crowd entertained on another late Europa League night. Jonathan De Guzman's hat trick did the damage, but the entire Napoli side performed well as they took apart their guests.
The whole display was comfortable for Napoli. They controlled the show in midfield, pressed forward relentlessly in attack, and on the rare occasion that Young Boys were able to muster up an attack, it was dealt with without too much sweat shed.
De Guzman, given his first start at a preferred position after several appearances on the wing, and oh boy did he put on a show. It took him some time to grow in to the match, but even before he made his influence felt in attack, his work rate did Napoli a lot of good in disrupting Young Boys' early efforts to assert their own will on things in the opening minutes.
As the first half wore on, Napoli started creating more and more chances. Desperate, tight packed defending helped Young Boys keep Napoli at bay, but so did poor finishing from Lorenzo Insigne and Duvan Zapata, as well as an uninspiring early shift from Dries Mertens. Through all that, though, was De Guzman, constantly pushing up, constantly harassing Young Boys' midfield and defense, and constantly trying to get things done.
Finally, as the first half was drawing to a close, De Guzman made something happen. Napoli won a series of three corners during stoppage time, and after the third he got the ball in space on Napoli's left side outside the box. Spotting Kalidou Koulibaly making a run to the far post, he fired in a cross towards the Frenchman... a cross that suddenly curled and dipped at goal. Young Boys' goalkeeper Yvon Mvogo had been playing the cross and didn't see the curl until it was too late, and the ball dipped over his desperate reach and in to the far corner to put Napoli ahead.
Napoli emerged at half-time and put the pedal to the metal, pushing hard and fast for a second goal. Insigne had a couple of chances go wanting, and Zapata blasted one over the bar, but just as doubt was starting to build around the Colombian striker's performance, he showed up in a big (pardon the pun) way. A Gokhan Inler tackle sprung the ball his way, which he gathered up and went on a run for the ages. He trucked one Young Boys defender, shed another, and just as Mvogo committed to defending against a shot, he laid the ball off to a De Guzman run that had gone unnoticed. De Guzman fired home, and oh look, 2-0.
Napoli stayed on the front foot, with Young Boys rarely able to generate enough of a sustained threat to break the momentum. Just coasting through to the finish from there wasn't enough, though; Napoli needed one more goal to overturn the head-to-head deadlock that the two sides were in in the case of the eventual need for a tiebreaker. Even after Jose Callejon and Gonzalo Higuain came on, though, it was De Guzman again working the magic. A cross from Faouzi Ghoulam in to the box was poorly cleared, and De Guzman required on a touch to bring the ball down before the Dutch-Canadian midfielder fired home for his hat trick.
It was a magnificent performance from the partenopei. Even though a few players didn't have the best individual days of their careers, the team effort as a whole was still top-notch, and Rafa Benitez and his side should be proud of what they managed today. Thanks to Slovan Bratislava not even really being able to slow down Sparta Prague, the Czech side is still atop the group, but Napoli are in a better position now than they were this morning to win the group and start a run through the knockout rounds.
No, we haven't addressed Miguel Britos' injury and apparent concussion. That's getting a post of its own later.
Napoli: Rafael; Mesto, Henrique, Koulibaly, Britos (Ghoulam 38'); Gargano, Inler; Insigne (Callejon 72'), De Guzman, Mertens; Zapata (Higuain 79')
Goals: De Guzman 45'+2, 64', 83'
Young Boys: Mvogo; Hadergjonaj, Von Bergen, Vilotic, Rochat; Steffen, Gajic (Kubo 60'), Sanogo, Bertone, Nuzzolo (Nikci 61'); Hoarau (Afum 68')