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Napoli 0, Fiorentina 1: Ten Angry Men

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A red card for Faouzi Ghoulam completely changed the complexion of the match, and the chase for second place just got a lot harder.

A match that Napoli was edging early was completely turned on its head by a red card, and a ten-man Napoli side fell to a late Fiorentina goal.

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Napoli 0
Fiorentina 1 Joaquin 87'

The first half of the match was a rather entertaining affair, with both sides well up for the occasion and generating entertaining football. Napoli had the lion's share of the chances, with six shots to Fiorentina's two, but that didn't mean that Fiorentina wasn't threatening on a regular basis. It took three excellent Neto saves to keep Napoli off the scoresheet, and in general it felt like Napoli was edging things out in the match and a goal was inevitable.

Then Marko Bakic broke through midfield, and all hell broke loose.

Gokhan Inler completely lost his mark on the Montenegrin midfielder, and then Raul Albiol made his second lethal mistake in as many matches, stepping well up off the line and then stopping for no apparent reason, letting a free runner past him. Against Porto, it resulted in the goal that sealed Napoli's Europa League fate. Today, it resulted in Faouzi Ghoulam getting sent off for a last-man tackle.

Replays indicated that the call may have been a harsh one; it appeared that he got the ball first, and certainly far more of the ball than he did of Bakic. But the referee whistled for a foul, and in a last man situation he had to send Ghoulam off, and Napoli were down to ten men with over fifty minutes left to go.

Napoli were able to survive the rest of the first half and indeed were able to keep generating a bit of a threat, but it was clear that the momentum had swung Fiorentina's way. While perhaps bringing off Anthony Reveillere (who had been incredibly ineffective) for a third center back and leaving the midfield and attack more or less as they were, Rafa took the risky move of swapping the Frenchman to the left side of defense and pulling Jose Callejon back to right back. That move led to some terrifying moments after half time, including Juan Cuadrado blowing past a crossed-up Callejon and volleying an Alberto Aquilani cross just over the bar.

Just past the hour mark, though, Callejon unleashed a bomb of a shot from past the halfway line. Normally you see those and just roll your eyes, but this was a bullet headed straight at goal. Neto read it well and was able to pick it out of the air, but his momentum very nearly saw him carry the ball in to the net. It was almost a shame it didn't turn in to a goal, the shot was so beautiful.

Fiorentina's chances at grabbing a vital win would take a massive hit not long after, as Mario Gomez went down clutching his left knee and was quickly subbed off for Alessandro Matri. Given that Matri would go on to miss two clear-cut chances that Gomez almost certainly would have buried, Napoli may have caught a huge break in that.

Napoli kept pushing forward for a goal, but their efforts would take a huge hit late in the match thanks to a serious-looking injury. Dries Mertens, who had been subbed on ten minutes before, was running clear on goal when Stephen Savic came sliding in from his left (with studs up) and took Mertens' legs out from under him. Mertens was in obvious distress right away, and his face was etched in pain as the trainers carefully took him off the field. Hopefully his injury isn't as serious as it appeared, but at first blush it looks really, really bad.

The bad news wouldn't stop there for Napoli: shortly after the restart, Fiorentina worked the ball around the box, and Joaguin finished the move, and Napoli, off with a header from the left side and in to the back of the net. Pepe Reina had been drawn off to the right, but stayed there for some bizarre reason while Fiorentina switched the ball to the left, and the Spanish winger was presented with an empty net to nod in to.

That was the exclamation mark on a very frustrating match for partenopei fans and players alike. Several players on the pitch were visibly upset over the course of the match, with Gokhan Inler and Gonzalo Higuain in particular venting their emotions on the field. Higuain was so upset that his remonstrations continued well after he was substituted off, and they earned him a yellow card as well. It was a little hard to blame him, as he was stranded up top by Fiorentia's numbers for most of the match after Ghoulam was sent off, and what few chances he was able to generate went wasting by excellent goalkeeping work by Neto.

In the end, Napoli lost a match at home that they largely had the upper hand in, and deserved or not, their slide in form continues. With just nine matches left in the season and Roma six points up with a game in hand, second place might be out of reach. An already-frustrating second half of the season has only grown moreso after today's result, and it might only get worse as Napoli are facing a tough run of matches over the next month. There's every chance this is going to get uglier before it gets better.