Napoli needed a win in a big way, both to bounce back from Sunday's disappointment and to secure advancement in the Europa League nice and early. That's exactly what they got, and they got it in fantastic fashion, going out on the San Paolo pitch and blasting Danish opponents FC Midtjylland 5-0 in an emphatic victory.
The tone of the match was set right away, with Napoli dominating possession and the pace of play, passing circles around Midtjylland's midfield and looking nigh unstoppable. It seemed only a matter of time before Napoli would score, and indeed it didn't take long at all.
In the 13th minute, Lorenzo Insigne was carrying the ball up the pitch and picking out a deep pass over the top of Midtjylland's defense While normally we'd expect to see Jose Callejon or Gonzalo Higuain racing up to meet the pass, it was surprise starter Omar El Kaddouri who got on the end of the sublime pass from Insigne, slamming it home past Mikkel Andersen with a first-time shot.
That fantastic pass and shot slammed open the floodgates, and they would not close again before the end of the match.
By halftime, it was 3-0 thanks to a pair of goals from Manolo Gabbiadini. The first came from a rebounded shot from Insigne, struck so fiercely that Andersen could only knock it aside. The ball fell right to Gabbiadini, who easily slotted his shot low before Andersen could recover. The second came from a well-played sequence in the box, with Ivan Strinic setting up a flick from El Kaddouri that went a little awry. David Lopez was on the scene to clean up the mess, however, poking the loose ball to Gabbiadini, who made no mistake in smashing home.
Jess Thorup tried making numerous changes to Midtjylland's approach and tactics to try to stem the Napoli tide, but all he could really do was slow them down some. What he apparently forgot to do, however, was account for Christian Maggio, who made a now-rare start at right back and took the chance to make a run into the box that we haven't seen from him in several years. Played in by El Kaddouri, Maggio wasn't able to show off the burst of pace he once had, but kept motoring on anyways before getting his shot off as he was knocked off balance. The goal was his first since 2013, and it was wonderful to see considering how much Maggio has struggled over the past several years.
The final goal, a header off a corner from Jose Callejon, was almost expected. By that point, Midtjylland were beaten down, mostly just going through the motions as Napoli continued to run circles around them. It's almost a shame, really -- Midtjylland played well, both in this match and in the first between these teams in October, and the steep scorelines of Napoli's wins is a harsh way to judge their quality. They rarely played poorly in either match, Napoli just played that much better.
The key, though, is that with this win, Napoli have 12 points in their Europa League group, sealing advancement to the round of 32 in February. In point of fact, Napoli have also all but tied up the top spot in Group D -- Midtjylland are the only team that can catch them on points, and they have a massive gulf in goal differential to make up. Having that kind of security takes a lot of pressure off Napoli ahead of their last two matches against Club Brugge and Legia Warsaw -- they can better afford to sit major starters now and give even more minutes to guys who haven't played as much this season, giving them experience while letting more important players rest for important league matches.
Now it's time to prepare for a visit from Udinese. The zebrette have had a rough season, and that could be just what the doctor ordered for Napoli to keep bouncing back from last weekend's disappointing draw.
I must apologize again for a lack of matchday coverage. I had a family emergency and wasn't home or able to access the internet for most of the day, and didn't even get to watch the match until later on in the day.
Napoli: Reina; Maggio, Chiriches, Koulibaly, Strinic (Hysaj 69'); Lopez, Valdifiori, Hamsik (Allan 53'); El Kaddouri, Gabbiadini, Insigne (Callejon 57')
Goals: El Kaddouri (13'), Gabbiadini (23', 38'), Maggio (54'), Callejon 77')
FC Midtjylland: Andersen; Romer, Jensen, Sviatchenko, Novak; Hansen (Urena 46'), Sparv; Royer, Poulsen, Olsson (Sisto 69'); Onuachu (Pusic 62')