Napoli needed a win over Serie A leading Fiorentina to help legitimize their comeback this season, and a win is exactly what they got. Second half goals from Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzalo Higuain were just what the doctor ordered, and the partenopei are now just three points off the top of the table after a well-deserved 2-1 win.
The first half was what you could call an extremely "tactical" affair. Both sides spent much of the half trying to unlock one another to mixed success -- Napoli struggled to provide good attacking service thanks to Fiorentina's highly effective midfield press, leaving Jorginho in particular off-balance and struggling to create an effective attacking presence. Fiorentina, though, struggled to create en effective attack themselves, with Allan, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Napoli's fullbacks giving their attackers nightmares -- and heck, even Marek Hamsik was having himself a bit of a day with defending in midfield.
The halftime whistle blew with the match still knotted up at 0-0, and it was tough to see a way through for either team. Neither Napoli or Fiorentina were playing badly by any means, but their tactics were essentially cancelling one another out. Fiorentina probably felt that they had edged the half, but even if they did it was by such a small margin it didn't much matter. Something had to change in this match in order for this game to get any traction -- an of course, Napoli have been the kings of in-match adjustments this season.
It was obvious right from the start of the half that Napoli were coming out to a higher tempo and looking to play more direct, and they caught Fiorentina so utterly off guard with the change that they scored just 42 seconds into the second half. It started mere moments after the restart: a quick run from Marek Hamsik to find space between segments of Fiorentina's midfield, "just" a 35-yard or so defense-splitting through ball into the box*, and a clever run from Lorenzo Insigne beat Nenad Tomovic with ease to let him shoot first time, curling past Ciprian Tatarusanu in goal. It was fast, it was gorgeous, and Napoli were up 1-0.
*Seriously, the number of people downplaying the quality of that pass is staggering. Haters, all of you. That was fantastic.
It took them awhile, but Fiorentina finally woke up and started fighting back, though Napoli still controlled most of the run of play. Unfortunately, they didn't play mistake-free -- just after the 70th minute, Koulibaly gave Nikola Kalinic just a little bit too much space to work with and Napoli were punished for it, to the tune of a too-easy goal whne Josip Ilicic slipped him through.
It didn't take long for Napoli to restore their lead, though, and amusingly it was again Ilicic playing provider. Some pressure from Gonzalo Higuain lead Ilicic to make a horribly sloppy touch that Higuain knicked and ran off with, playing a 1-2 with Dries Mertens before scoring, all while Ilicic hopelessly tried to track Higuain's run. Ilicic sitting in the penalty area with his hands helplessly in the air as Higuain wheeled away in celebration made for a nice exclamation mark for the goal, no?
That was more or less the last really huge action of the match. Both teams kept looking for another goal, but much like the first half, they canceled each other out pretty effectively. Fiorentina started playing with a desperate edge that may or may not have helped lead to Mertens getting hurt and having to come out -- there was no video of what hurt him, though commentary did mention what sounded like a blindside bodycheck from a Fiorentina player -- but also left them pressing too hard to be truly effective in attack. Napoli came out of this match deserved winners, and what a huge win it is.
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I want to take a second to talk about the referee, Luca Banti, because he was terrible today. Napoli fans and Fiorentina fans alike were equally livid with him, a sure mark of a referee who simply lost the plot. He'd go through stretches of the match calling it ludicrously one-sided one way or the other, or handing out yellows for the slightest offense, or not calling anything at all no matter how harsh the challenge. While he didn't make any game-changing mistakes in terms of a penalty or red card situation, Banti's wild inconsistency in how he called the match was one of the worst refereeing displays that you will see in any league this season.
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The final result is a massive one for Napoli, who just six weeks ago were being left for dead by many observers. Maurizio Sarri and company have turned the team around in a big, big way, though, and now they've knocked the top team in the table down a pretty large peg. Napoli have gone from actually flirting with the relegation zone at one point to vaulting into fourth place, and are just three points behind first place now. Napoli are on an absolutely dominant run right now -- may it long continue.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan (Lopez 90'), Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Higuain, Insigne (Mertens 61', El Kaddouri 79')
Goals: Insigne (46'), Higuain (75')
Fiorentina: Tatarusanu; Tomovic (Babacar 78'), Rodriguez, Astori; Blaszczykowski, Badelj, Vecino, Alonso (Roncaglia 55'); Bernardeschi (Ilicic 52'), Valero; Kalinic
Goals: Kalinic (73')