The first half of the match was utterly forgettable for Napoli, but a much stronger showing in the second half saw them score twice en route to a 2-0 over Legia Warsaw in Poland to get their second group stage in in the Europa League, including an absolute stunner from Gonzalo Higuain.
Stop me if you've heard this before: a smaller team that can't go blow for blow with Napoli takes a shape that allows them to easily pack the box and throttle Napoli's ability to create quality chances. Napoli dominate possession, but struggle to get many clean chances away as a result of their opponent's tactics.
That's been a far too common theme for Napoli for a few years now, and that was the case again today, especially in the first half. Legia could barely get into the game except for a handful of counters, but because Napoli couldn't break them down, it didn't matter.
That was the first half, though. The second was a different story.
Napoli came out playing faster and sharper to start the second half, and it threw Legia for a bit of a loop. That finally gave Napoli space to play with in the final third, and they took full advantage, with Jose Callejon sending in a delightful cross that Dries Mertens finished off with a whipped header that easily beat Dusan Kuciak.
Things slowed back down for a spell after Napoli's opening goal, with Legia able to reorganize their defense to an extent, but their need to push forward to find an equalizer still left Napoli with more room to work with than they'd had before. They did their best to find a second goal with that space, but a poor match from Manolo Gabbiadini continued, and Kuciak was able to save a couple excellent chances from Allan.
Then Gonzalo Higuain entered the match, and he did -- well, this.
Gawwwwwwwwwwwwwwd, he's good when he's having fun. That finish is just not fair or nice or anything like that.
That was the final blow, as it took the wind out of Legia's sails. All that was left was a debut substitute appearance for Nathaniel Chalobah, and Napoli coasted through to the end of the match.
It wasn't always the most inspiring performance Napoli have put together, but it was the win they needed, and seeing the win come with a heavily-rotated side was a big positive as well -- even if some of the players coming into the side didn't play all that well. The win also keeps Napoli joint-top in the group and ahead of FC Midtjylland on goal differential after the Danish side beat Club Brugge 3-1 in the other Group D match.
Now let's carry on this solid roll of results and watch Napoli throttle Milan on Sunday, eh?
Napoli: Gabriel; Christian Maggio, Vlad Chiriches, Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam; Allan (Nathaniel Chalobah 86'), Mirko Valdifiori, David Lopez; Jose Callejon (Gonzalo Higuain 77'), Manolo Gabbiadini, Dries Mertens (Omar El Kaddouri 72')
Goals: Mertens (53'), Higuain (83')
Legia Warsaw: Dusan Kuciak; Bartosz Bereszynski, Jakub Rzezniczak, Igor Lewczuk, Tomasz Brzyski; Guilherme, Michal Pazdan (Rafal Makowski 89'), Tomasz Jodlowiec; Ivan Trickovski (Nemanja Nikolic 62'), Aleksandar Prijovic, Michal Kucharczyk (Ondrej Duda 62')