It wasn't pretty, but it worked; Napoli played poorly in the first half, gave up a goal early in the second, and went down to ten men after the 80th minute when Kalidou Koulibaly was sent off. Despite all that hardship, they still found a way to grab a last-minute goal, take a point off Sampdoria away from Naples, and seal their hold on third place for another week.
Things got off to a bright start for Napoli, with the partenopei moving the ball around relatively well and Sampdoria mostly just sitting back and seeing what Napoli wanted to do. Then Samp won the ball in midfield, Miguel Britos committed a rash and sloppy foul on Stefano Okaka has he ran by, and he was booked for his trouble. From there on in, the match took on a different shape.
Sampdoria knew that Britos isn't an especially good left back, because frankly everyone knows that. With an early yellow card, though, Sinisa Mihajlovic started having his players run right at Britos over and over, knowing that he'd eventually make a mistake one way or the other and either set up a scoring chance for Samp or get sent off for a second yellow.
It nearly worked; Samp's best chances in the first half came from Napoli's left, and Britos gave up a couple of fouls that easily could have left him heading for an early shower and Napoli down a man. What it also accomplished, though, was putting Kalidou Koulibaly on the edge of a red card, as he had to commit several desperation fouls to bail his left back out of trouble.
That's more or less how the first half played out, with Sampdoria abusing Napoli's back line, and Napoli not being able to do much in attack because Sampdoria were dominating the run of play. The front four were basically isolated up top, as Gokhan Inler and David Lopez couldn't do much to get the ball up to them.
The second half started off much the same, though Napoli's attack did slowly start growing in to the game. Sampdoria had earned a number of cards themselves, forcing their midfield to start playing more conservatively. Of course, that extra attacking momentum didn't help Napoli at all when Eder got loose in the back line, with neither Koulibaly or Britos willing to challenge him and risk a sending off. That let Eder rip off a low shot to the near post, which Rafael couldn't reach after his feet slipped on the wet turf.
That finally forced Rafa's hand, making him take the disastrously poor Britos off the pitch and throw on Dries Mertens instead, finally sliding back Faouzi Ghoulam from the wing to his natural fullback position. That move finally seemed to free Napoli up, addint a whole lot more fluidity to the attack since the side wasn't having to deal with the entire left flank playing out of position. Things freed up even more when Gokhan Inler, who was also poor on the day, was taken off for Jorginho, restoring Napoli's best pivot and helping get to the ball to the front four much more regularly.
It was little coincidence that after those two came on, both Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain started looking much better. Napoli actually had decent chances start falling their way, but the right last touch kept eluding them, and Napoli kept trailing, and Sampdoria kept pushing hard themselves for a second goal.
The match started running end-to-end, and both teams started looking more and more dangerous. A little too dangerous, in the case of one Sampdoria attack; Eder managed to get free down the left flank in the 84th minute after a Napoli sub narrowed their shape a bit. Eventually, the only man between Eder and Rafael Cabral in goal was Kalidou Koulibaly, who took the once choice open to him: he fouled the sprinting Eder to stop the chance, picking up his second yellow card and a sending-off, but also preventing an almost certain goal.
It looked like all was lost for Napoli then, but there was still some hope left; Napoli kept finding space on the counter attack, and Duvan Zapata, who had come on for Marek Hamsik five minutes before Koulibaly went off, was using his size and ever-underrated skill on the ball to give Sampdoria's defense a major headache. He almost set up one golden chance for Napoli just before the 90th minute; Higuain had fed the Colombian at the top of the box, but Zapata didn't have a good shot with the way the defense was collapsing on him. Instead, he tried to backheel the ball to Callejon in space behind the defenders, but Ziggy wasn't looking for the pass and wasn't able to run on to it.
Zapata didn't screw up his next opportunity though. As injury time ticked away, Napoli launched forwards once more, not caring about being a man down and risking giving up another goal on the counter. Ghoulam got up the pitch with the ball and hammered in a cross... a cross that Zapata dove on to, knuckling a header past Sergio Romero and in to the back of the net.
Napoli got their point dramatically today, and no matter how ugly the performance was at times (thanks, Britos), it's still a good result. Sampdoria have been tough to play this season, and deserve full credit for their high standing in the Serie A table. Taking a point off them is not a bad result at all, especially coming with a man down.
Now, Napoli certainly could and should have played much better than they did, but with all factors considered... this result is perfectly acceptable. It sees Napoli back in to third place, even with red-hot Genoa on points but ahead of them on goal differential. With matches against Empoli, a hot-and-cold AC Milan side, and Parma coming up in the league, Napoli have a chance to get hot themselves, and put some real pressure on the top two again.
Sampdoria: Romero; De Silvestri, Silvestre, Romagnoli, Mesbah; Rizzo (Gabbiadini 78'), Palombo, Obiang (Duncan 46'); Soriano (Krsticic 70'); Eder, Okaka
Goal: Eder 57'
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly (red card 84'), Britos (Mertens 58'); Inler (Jorginho 63'), David Lopez; Callejon, Hamsik (Zapata 77'), Ghoulam; Higuain
Goal: Zapata 90'+1