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Sassuolo 0, Napoli 2: Comfort If Not Style

An assured performance from Napoli was more than enough to take all three points on the road against Sassuolo and Paolo Cannavaro.

Claudio Villa

Napoli came in to their visit to the Citta del Tricolore looking to right the wrongs of their reverse fixture that saw them draw in disappointing fashion. A matchup with Paolo Cannavaro gave the fixture a bit more spice, but in the end Napoli did more than enough to take all three points and never really allow Sassuolo much in to the match.

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Sassuolo 0
Napoli 2 Dzemaili 37', Insigne 55'

With Rafa only rotating out his three suspended starters and no one else, there were some understandably tired legs on the pitch for Napoli today, and it showed early on. The partenopei came out very flat, and for most of the first half Marek Hamsik was the only player generating much attacking verve for the side.

It didn't help any that Sassuolo were defending very aggressively, coming in with a rough-and-tumble setup that put Napoli players on the ground holding various body parts all too frequently. The hosts came out looking not to concede first, and apparently they didn't mind trying to break players along the way. Given how ineffective Sassuolo was when they went forward, trying not to concede was probably the better tactic.

Finally, after the 30th minute, Napoli started to step up the tempo and take proper control of the match. Chances started coming fast and furious, with Gonzalo Higuain and Lorenzo Insigne really growing in to the game and starting to match the earlier efforts of Hamsik and Dries Mertens. Unfortunately, Gianluca Pegolo seemed up to the challenge, making several quality saves and generally making himself in to a big old nuisance.

That wouldn't last forever, though. Just past 37 minutes, Hamsik fired off a shot from close range that Pegolo could only parry. This time, Sassuolo wasn't so lucky and the rebound dribbled out to the edge of the box, where Blerim Dzemaili was waiting for it. Rather than his trademark blast, Dzei sent a bouncing ball through the box, where the legs of Pegolo's defenders screened him from seeing it well until it whizzed by him and in to the back of the net.

That would be more or less it for the first half, though Sassuolo would generate a couple of half-chances just to keep the blood pressure of Napoli fans up. None of them were particularly dangerous, though, and Napoli would go in to the break comfortably in the lead.

The second half started with the sight of Gonzalo Higuain on the ground clutching his back, again. That's become a common sight this season, but given his history of back injuries it's still cause for some concern. Otherwise, it was all Napoli, with Pegolo, Paolo Cannavaro, and the rest of Sassuolo's defense having to weather another storm.

It wouldn't take Napoli too long to find a breakthrough. Ten minutes in to the half, Hamsik set Insigne free with a defense splitting pass, with the pocket-sized forward driving in to the box with only Cannavaro to beat. Despite being theoretically familiar with how Insigne operates, Napoli's ex-Captain did exactly the wrong thing to do in that situation: he backed off and turned to the outside, as though he expected Insigne to run to the byline and cross. That's not really what Insigne does, however, and instead he cut in half a step and let rip with this right foot, and Pegolo was helpless to stop the shot.

After that, the match was mostly a holding pattern. Napoli would have a few more chances, but mostly concentrated on holding the ball and not giving Sassuolo a good look at goal, which they successfully did. Higuain, Hamsik, and Valon Behrami (who played well in his first start in some time) were subbed off in preparation for the Europa tie with Swansea later this week.

It wasn't really pretty football, but it was comfortable, and a nice change in comparison to the reverse fixture, among many other matches against the minnows of the league. In the end, the three points is far more important than a dominating performance, and Napoli made sure they did enough to secure them. Onwards and upwards.