It may not have been as pretty a match as fans were hoping for, but Napoli got the all important three points with a 1-0 win over Udinese. They weren't as efficient or effective in front of goal as we've grown used to seeing, but a second-half strike from Gonzalo Higuain was enough to get the job done, thanks in large part to an excellent defensive performance from Napoli.
Napoli dominated the opening spell of the match, but couldn't get a shot on target for their troubles. In fact, getting shots on frame would be a struggle all game long -- Napoli only got six shots away in the first half, and just one of those was on-target. They'd do better on that front in the second half, with four shots out of nine getting on frame, but getting clean chances for shots was a problem all match long thanks to an aggressive and effective pressing scheme from Udinese.
Still, Napoli easily held more possession, and their defense kept Udinese's attack at bay with almost contemptuous ease. Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol were a brick wall in central defense, and the duo of Faouzi Ghoulam and Elseid Hysaj kept the zebrette wingbacks on lockdown, keeping Udinese from getting any kind of effective help from wide areas. Fernandes and Emmanuel Badu were able to cause occasional problems through the middle, but after a slight change in positioning and defensive assignments for Jorginho and Allan, even that threat was largely nullified.
So even with Napoli's attack failing to impress, that combination of no real defensive pressure and the large edge in possession meant that a goal had to come eventually -- and thanks to Gonzalo Higuain, it did. Udinese had just subbed in Ivan Piris for Felipe early in the second half, making a defensive swap to get one of two booked defenders off the pitch so as to avoid risking losing a defender to a second yellow card. Napoli didn't give Udinese's back line any time to settle, launching a fierce attack that put pressure all over before Jorginho slipped Higuain through, and his finish was perfectly placed to the far post despite having two defenders on top of him.
That would prove to be the only goal of the match, as Udinese bunkered up after that, but it was the only goal they needed with the zebrette unable to score one of their own. With this result, Napoli have run off seven straight wins at home in all competitions, and are now on a 15-match unbeaten run, with their last loss coming in the season opener against Sassuolo. That's not bad at all.
Now it's time to see where Napoli land in the table after Fiorentina's match to cap off the evening -- a Fiorentina win would see Napoli stay in fourth -- and then head into the international break. The break is well-timed, as Napoli have some very tired legs in the side. Hopefully those players jetting off to their national teams are given light workloads over the next two weeks, because this team could use a rest.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon (El Kaddouri 78'), Higuain (Gabbiadini 83'), Insigne (Mertens 68')
Goals: Higuain (53')
Udinese: Karnezis; Wague, Danilo, Felipe (Piris 52'); Widmer, Badu, Lodi, Iturra (Adnan 70'), Edenilson; Fernandes (Aguirre 57'); Thereau