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Catania 2, Napoli 4: Circus Show

That was certainly... something.

Maurizio Lagana

That was a match Catania fans would probably like to forget. What started as a solid defensive performance was completely undone by a series of disastrous mistakes by their back line, and the match was effectively over by halftime.

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Catania 2 Monzon 52', Gyomber 75'
Napoli 4 Zapata 16', 43; Callejon 25'; Henrique 40'

Catania started out looking to bunker and try to keep Napoli from scoring at all costs, and early on it was looking like an effective tactic. Napoli were practically camped out in Catania's half of the pitch, but a compact and withdrawn defense and midfield kept the partenopei from getting any space in dangerous areas. The hosts were able to absorb all kinds of early pressure, and looked threatening when they were able to launch a counter.

Just after the 15 minute mark, though, all that was undone. Jose Callejon took the ball and, in a near-perfect imitation of one of Gonzalo Higauin's trademark moves, drove just off the right goalpost and chipped in a low cross looking for a supporting runner. Duvan Zapata, who started in place of a resting Higuain today, was able to slip Norbert Gyomber in the box and floated in to the space the cross was heading, leaving the Colombian with a simple finish to put Napoli in the lead.

Ten minutes later, Napoli scored another in one of the more bizarre moments in front of goal that you'll ever see. It was so bizarre, in fact, that I'm not really sure how to properly describe it; suffice to say that after a weird scrum in the box that saw the ball ping around between the two sides like crazy, Callejon suddenly emerged from the pack with the ball at his feet and fired past a helpless Mariano Andujar.

That second goal came in the middle of a stretch of play that saw Catania threaten fairly regularly, as a patchwork Napoli defense was undone by error after error. For his part, Pepe Reina wasn't doing anything to help, getting caught way off his line and out of position three times, only escaping punishment thanks to some terrible touches and finishing by the hosts, as well as two shots off the crossbar. Fortunately, the defense was bailed out by a quickfire pair of goals after the 40th minute, including a miraculous shot from Henrique Buss after Catania's defense went to sleep, and then a hilarious error by basically the entire back line that let Zapata score his second of the match.

Catania was loudly booed by their fans as the teams came off the pitch for half time, and it wasn't long before conspiracy theories started flying around Twitter. Since Catania's keeper is a Napoli loanee, people immediately started accusing him of match-fixing for his parent club. That's an insane assertion for two reasons: one, he was actually outplaying Reina by a fair margin despite the scoreline, and two, the goals were all directly attributable to terrible mistakes by their back line, not anything he did.

For their part, Catania would fight back in the second half. They scored their first off a rebound in the box when Fabian Monzon slipped free of Anthony Reveillere and jumped on it, then pulled another back when Raul Albiol failed to do anything resembling effective marking on a corner, and Gyomber got the better of him and headed the ball in.

Catania would never find a third, but they still outplayed Napoli on a whole in the second half, which was... disappointing, to say the least. An injury to Duvan Zapata late on was also disheartening to see, as the big Colombian was actually playing very, very well on the day, showing excellent hold-up play and a lot of reason to dream on his future. A cameo for Josep Radosevic was a welcome site as well, and the Croatian midfielder seemed very comfortable and composed despite his lack of playing time on the season.

It feels weird to be disappointed in a 4-2 win, but part of me can't escape that outlook on this match. The hideous performance by the defense stands out like a sore thumb, and the generally flat display in the second half was extremely underwhelming, even considering the scoreline. Still, a win is a win, and is especially important today as Fiorentina fell to AC Milan, meaning that Napoli have re-opened a ten point lead over them and are almost out of reach for the race for the last Champions League spot.

Hopefully things look a whole lot better against Juventus on Sunday.