A win. Three points. Third place. Lots of momentum heading in to the break. But at what cost glory?
Napoli came out at the Stadio Franchi and after a brief settling in spell, the took the match to Fiorentina. A combination of Napoli's better tactical planning and a complete lack of ability to hold the ball for the home side kept Fiorentina off balance for most of the first half, and Napoli took advantage by generating chance after chance.
A good goalkeeping display by Neto and some mediocre finishing for Napoli kept the boys in blue from capitalizing on that momentum and scoring, though. Napoli did get the ball in net once in the first half off a stunning scissor kick from Gonzalo Higuain, but the Argentine striker was offside when the ball was sent in despite a defender stepping back to cover while the ball was in the air.
The news of the first half, and indeed the news of the whole match, was not Napoli's domination of the run of play. No, instead it was something much, much worse for the partenopei: early in the half, Josip Ilicic slid in on Lorenzo Insigne to win the ball. While the tackle itself was clean, it knocked Insigne off-balance in the air, and he landed awkwardly, immediately grabbing for his right leg. Insigne was taken off shortly after with the injury, and later on in the match it was announced that Insigne had sprained his knee and needed further testing.
After that, the match seemed to be about winning it for Lorenzo as much anything else. Napoli kept pushing and pushing, but the first half ended with the score still knotted at zero.
The second half started with a tactical shift from Fiorentina, moving from the 4-3-3 they opened the match with to a 3-5-2, with Cuadrado ranging up and down the right wing and Ilicic slid up alongside Khouma Babacar, who had been struggling and isolated for much of the first half. That change worked wonders for the home side, as they were able to solidify their defense and stopped giving the ball away quite so much.
That lead to some nervy spells for Napoli, but Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam kept the worst of the danger contained, while David Lopez and Raul Albiol cleaned up the messes. Napoli kept threatening at Fiorentina's goal, though, and eventually forced just the defensive miscue they needed.
Christian Maggio, who had perhaps his best match of the season today, got forward and sent in a cross to the near post that Nenad Tomovic attempted a sliding clearance on. Tomovic had been one of the main culprits of Fiorentina's inability to hold possession in the first half and didn't do much better here, with his clearance shanking away in the wrong direction, landing right at the feet of Gonzalo Higuain. Pipita took full advantage and hammered home past a helpless Neto, putting Napoli up 1-0.
From there it seemed to be more about hanging on than finding a second. Napoli created danger on a few counters, but for the most part it was all Fiorentina. The defense was on its game, though, and so was Rafael Cabral, who made a magnificent leaping save off a ripped shot fading away from him. Napoli's defense and midfield started dropping deeper and deeper as the minutes ticked away, though, giving Fiorentina more chances at an equalizer.
That nearly came in the dying minutes of the match. Napoli had by then gone in to a full-out bunker, with Rafa Benitez taking off Higuain for Henrique Buss, and a desperate spell of attack for Fiorentina gave them about four half-chances in ten seconds, ending with a ripped shot from Manuel Pasqual that Koulibaly scraped off the goal line and fired clear, saving the win for Napoli.
This was a good win, a great win even, but it came at a very high price with Insigne's injury. Hopefully he isn't out for too long, but for now we can only wish him a full recovery from what looked like a very bad injury. In the meantime, though, Napoli stand third place, just a point behind Roma pending the result of their own match this evening. Considering where we stood just a month ago, this is a fantastic place for Napoli to be. They've completely turned around their season, and are quickly becoming the force in Serie A that Napoli were meant to be.
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Lopez; Insigne (Mertens 25'), Hamsik (De Guzman 75'), Callejon; Higuain (Henrique 84')
Goal: Higuain 62'
Fiorentina: Neto; Tomović, Gonzalo, Savić, Alonso (Pasqual 83'); Mati F, Aquilani (Pizarro 65'), Valero; Cuadrado, Babacar, Iličić (Gomez 73')