It was a dreadfully dull start as Napoli's squad tried to pull themselves out of their post-vacation haze, with most of the players looking a step slow and not completely sure of what they were supposed to be doing tactically. Cesena tried to take advantage of this a couple of times, but confident goalkeeping from Rafael Cabral kept them at bay.
Marek Hamsik was the first to "wake up," as it were, among Napoli's attackers. He started controlling possession well for Napoli, linking excellently with David Lopez to keep the ball moving and try to drive forward. For most of the first half, though, Napoli's other three attackers were all sluggish and struggled to keep up with their captain's drive.
Then, almost as though a switch had been flipped, Napoli woke up and took control. Quick and incisive passing on a counter gave Gonzalo Higuain the ability to knock down a ball behind Cesena's defense, and Jose Callejon was there to hammer it home. That moment seemed to give Napoli even more momentum, and as they started dominating the run of play it was only a matter of time before they scored again.
When they did, it was a thing of absolute beauty. Rafael booted a free kick long and found Marek Hamsik in space, who turned, took one touch to steady the ball, and fired up to a sprinting Higuain. A touch around the goalkeeper was all Pipita needed to put Napoli up 2-0 just before halftime.
The second half started out nervier. Cesena had been forced in to making a substitution at halftime after defender Stefano Lucchini hurt himself when he slammed in to the post trying to stop Higuain's goal. Instead of bringing on another defender, though, Domenico Di Carlo went the braver route and threw on another attacker, a change in shape and tactics that threw Napoli's defense for quite awhile. Luckly Rafael Cabral was up to the task, with another good save and several other moments of quality goalkeeping work to keep Cesena off the board.
After Napoli settled back down, the rout was on. A simple counter attack carved open Cesena once again, and this time it was Marek Hamsik slotting past a hopelessly unsupported Nicola Leali. The goal was initially ruled an own goal when Daniele Capelli bundled the ball in with a desperation slide, but credit was later, and deservedly, given to Hamsik.
Just six minutes later, Napoli got their capper from Higuain off a gorgeous low drive across his body to make it 4-0 and kill the match off. Yes, Cesena got a goal of their own off a lovely strike from Franco Brienza, but that's what the industry calls a "consolation goal." It had no real effect or bearing on the match, and even though the whistle blew after 90 minutes, it was effectively over the moment Higuain swung his right foot to score his second goal.
They took awhile to heat up, but in the end it was an impressive display from Napoli. They've too often struggled with smaller teams like Cesena in the last 18 months, but today they comprehensively dominated and controlled the match, and the scoreline shows it. Napoli needed to start the new year off right, and they most certainly have done so. On to the next.
Cesena: Leali; Capelli, Magnusson, Lucchini; Giorgi, Valzania, Ze Eduardo, Cascione, Mazzotta; Brienza; Almeida
Goal: Brienza 75'
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Henrique, Britos; David Lopez, Gargano; De Guzman, Hamsik, Callejon; Higuain
Goals: Callejon 29', Higuain 41', Hamsik 65', Higuain 71'