An early goal aside, Napoli took fairly thorough control of today's match. A 3-1 final scoreline was well deserved and may in fact have been somewhat kind to the visitors given how many chances were wasted by the hosts. it wasn't pretty, but three points is three points, and that's exactly what Napoli came away with today.
Napoli 2 Inler 11'; Higuain 56', 82'
AC Milan 1 Taarabt 7'
Napoli came out on the front foot, pressing hard both with and without possession, and they had several early chances to show for it. Among them was a post-rattling shot from Marek Hamsik on a lovely effort set up by one of Gonzalo Higuain's trademark low crosses from the right side of the goal near the byline. Napoli were creating lots of danger in the opening few minutes, but it would quickly go for naught.
A turnover in midfield would wind up at the feet of Adel Taarabt, who found himself able to dribble all the way out to the edge of Napoli's box. No one closed him down properly, and Pepe Reina had a moment of indecision on whether or not to come out, getting caught in no-man's land, unable to do much but dive hopefully towards the shot that Taarabt unleashed to put Milan up 1-0 after seven minutes.
That quickly opened up the match, with both sides aggressively seeking a goal. After a counter stalled out near Milan's box, Jorginho picked out Gokhan Inler with space around him and put the ball at the Swiss midfielder's feet. Nigel De Jong couldn't close him down fast enough, and Inler unleashed one of his classic long-range shots from some thirty yards out. Instead of blasting up past row Z, this one snaked just over an outstretched Christian Abbiati and dipped just under the bar to give Napoli an equalizer eleven minutes in to the match.
The match would continue to sprint back and forth for the next twenty minutes or so, with both sides creating several chances and both defenses giving their fans heart attacks. Higuain had a couple of near misses, and Hamsik (who was consistently dominating Michael Essien in the first half) had a couple excellent chances of his own. Just after the half hour mark, Napoli turned up the pressure a notch, forcing Milan to drop in to a shell and effectively ending any significant threat from their attack.
Napoli would have two more brilliant chances go wanting before halftime. Jorginho chipped a gorgeous ball just over Hamsik's left shoulder, but the Slovakian's volley was lashed high. A few minutes later, a scrum in the box saw Napoli get about four shots off in rapid succession, but they couldn't find the target and the chance ended when Christian Maggio hit the post with his try.
Despite their bright start, Milan were clearly reeling by halftime. Clarence Seedorf tried to right the ship by bringing on Kaka at halftime after the Brazilian playmaker started the match of the bench thanks to the flu. It was quickly clear that he still wasn't quite right, though, as he couldn't keep up with the pace of the match at all.
The De Jong-Essien midfield pairing was quickly overrun coming out of the gates, and that would lead to a Napoli goal before long, with Inler dropping in a gorgeous ball for Higuain in the 56th minute. Milan captain Philippe Mexes, who had a simply terrible match, manage to lose all idea of where the Argentine striker was, and Pipita nodded the ball home simply to put Napoli in front early in the second half. Inler's pass was incredible, dropping it perfectly in to the space between the defense and Milan's keeper, and Higuain read it perfectly to capitalize.
After that, it was all Napoli, all the time. Milan as a whole was looking increasingly frustrated, with none showing it more than Mario Balotelli. The striker was getting little in the way of service and constantly being caught offside when he did get the ball. He was ultimately hauled off in the 73rd minute, with shots of him on the bench catching him crying from obvious frustration when he wasn't holding a jacket over his head.
Napoli would find one more goal before the end of the match, with Hamsik using space in the midfield to start a wonderfully worked combination that ended with Higuain again finding space behind Mexes and finishing easily to put Napoli up 3-1 after 82 minutes. Rafa quickly made a pair of defensive substitutions and ground the last few minutes out from there. Aside from a couple moments of Reina-induced heart attacks, the second half was a very comfortable affair, and Napoli's victory was ultimately rather anti-climactic.
Three points is three points, and these were well-earned in a comfortable victory. That said, this was a victory won over a simply terrible AC Milan side that has one of the few defenses worse than Napoli's in Serie A. Still, it was a good performance by the boys in blu... er, yellow. Marek Hamsik finally looked to be back to his old self, Faouzi Ghoulam enjoyed a great debut, Jorginho was quietly awesome, and Gokhan Inler had his best match in a very, very long time. With Fiorentina winning earlier and Roma facing a tough match tomorrow, this win and confident performance was vital. Let's have more of this over the next few matches, please.