Napoli hadn't won in Bergamo since 2010, but that streak was snapped on Sunday when they beat Atalanta 3-1 thanks to three second half goals. It wasn't their best performance of the year, but it was enough to get the job done, and Napoli go into the winter break in third place and with a much needed win under their belt.
The first half was pretty painfully flat from Napoli, struggling to maintain possession or do much dangerous with it when they did. They got their shots off, to be sure -- seven in the half -- but all were either right at the keeper or missed the target, and only a couple of them seemed particularly threatening.
The second half was a much different story -- the first 20 minutes or so of it, at least. Napoli went with an all-out gangbusters attack right off the bat, and that helped earn them a penalty off a corner in the 52nd minute that had been won after a period of sustained pressure. Somewhat surprisingly, Marek Hamsik stepped up to the spot despite having missed from the spot just a few days ago -- but he converted his penalty kick to get his first such goal in the league since 2011.
Unfortunately, Napoli screwed up right away, giving up a goal on Atalanta's first attack after the restart. Luca Cigarini got the chance rolling with a backheel that left Napoli completely out of sorts, then who else was it but Maxi Moralez and German Denis setting up Alejandro Gomez for the goal -- four of the biggest thorns in Napoli's side around.
Napoli were solid defensively the rest of the way, though, giving up only seven more shots the rest of the way, only one of which was even on target. They weren't quite as aggressive in attack as they had been at the start of the match, but it only took them until the 62nd minute to regain their lead, with Gonzalo Higuain finding the back of the net off a corner set up well by Jorginho. Maurizio Sarri said after the match that it was a routine they'd worked on in training after Napoli had struggled on set pieces recently, and it was a moment that the whole team truly seemed to enjoy.
Things threatened to come unhinged for Napoli, though, when Jorginho made a pair of rash and poor tackles just three minutes apart -- both of which earned him a yellow card and thus an early trip to the showers. Napoli actually adapted very well to the loss, however, keeping the pressure up on Atalanta, which seemed to catch the hosts off guard and unable to respond. That helped lead to Napoli's third and final goal in the late minutes, a gorgeous chipped assist from Hamsik to Higuain, who needed just a couple touches to settle the ball and get into the box before firing home.
The match could have ended with a fairly lopsided score, with Napoli getting another penalty in stoppage time after Gabriel Paletta brought down Dries Mertens as the last man on a goalscoring chance, earning himself a straight red card in the process. This time, Hamsik unfortunately stayed true to his penalty shooting form and missed his shot from the spot -- but it's not like Napoli needed the goal.
The result leaves Napoli in third place, even with second place Fiorentina on points and goal differential, but behind on other tiebreakers. The pair are just one point behind league-leading Inter Milan, who had a dreadful performance in a loss to Lazio on Sunday. That's not a bad place to be in heading into the winter break, and hopefully they'll be able to carry the momentum from this win into the second half of the season in January.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan (Lopez 66'), Jorginho (red 73'), Hamsik; Insigne (Mertens 72'), Higuain (Maggio 89'), Callejon
Goals: Hamsik (pen. 52'), Higuain (62', 85')
Atalanta: Bassi; Bellini (Raimondi 64', Masiello 79'), Stendardo, Paletta (red 90'), Brivio; Grassi, de Roon (D'Alessandro 78'), Cigarini; Moralez, Denis, Gomez
Goals: Gomez (54')