One supposes that Napoli's fantastic run had to come to and end eventually, and apparently that time was now. Napoli lost 3-2 thanks to some dreadful play in the first half and a moment of shocking luck in the second, making it so that Gonzalo Higuain's late brace wasn't enough to save the day. Napoli's 18-match unbeaten run and status as the first-place team in Serie A are done.
Napoli started the match in absolutely dreadful form. They struggled with their touch at both ends of the field, had a hard time linking play, and couldn't get a clean shot off to save their lives. It looked uncomfortably like the last 20 minutes of the Inter match last weekend -- you know, that spell when Napoli were desperately holding on to a one-goal lead and nearly gave up about five goals.
While Inter couldn't punish Napoli for that spell, Bologna did. Harshly. Mattia Destro scored on 14 minutes when he won a long ball over the top and Raul Albiol failed to do anything to slow him down or win the ball or even sort of redirect him. There were claims of offside, and replays suggested that Destro may have been half a stride off -- but the simple fact is that Albiol played his role dreadfully in that moment.
Albiol was far from alone in defenders screwing up, though -- seven minutes later while defending a corner, Kalidou Koulibaly switched off Luca Rossettini to close on a Bologna player that Albiol was already marking, and the corner curled in gorgeously for, you guessed it, Rossettini. His unmarked header beat Pepe Reina with ease, and Bologna had a shocking two-goal lead, the first Napoli had given up all season long.
Those goals were the high, er, lowlights of a dreadful opening spell for Napoli, but make no mistake: Napoli were terrible in that first half hour. They didn't look anything like the team that had stormed up the table to take first place for themselves, instead playing more like the tentative team from the beginning of the season. They slowly played better in the final 15 minutes of the half, though, and came out in the second half swinging hard -- but crucially, they couldn't get their shots on target, and when they did, Antonio Mirante made save after save in goal.
Then Bologna scored again, and the way it was scored just typified the match. It was a second goal from Destro, and a wonderful finish at that -- but it was set up by Marek Hamsik winning a tackle. He knocked the ball free from a Bologna midfielder and back towards his defense, but instead of Koulibaly getting onto the ball and recycling possession, Destro pounced and fired home to make it 3-0. For what it's worth, Pepe Reina was pretty dreadful in his effort to save the shot, but that's almost an afterthought after everything else.
Lady luck was in a bad mood, apparently.
That third goal fairly took the wind out of Napoli's sails for a time, and it took them a long time to start unlocking Bologna's defense again. Once they did, though, the chances came thick and fast, and then so did the goals, with Gonzalo Higuain scoring two in three minutes to bring the match suddenly to 3-2. Sadly, it took him all the way to the 87th minutes to score his first, so it was too little, too late, and Napoli couldn't find a third in the four minutes of stoppage time added on to the end of the match.
In hindsight, we should have seen that this match was a trap. Bologna have been playing better since Roberto Donadoni took over, and Napoli have rarely played well at the Stadio Dall'Ara. Add that to Napoli not playing up to their recent standard against Inter last week, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
Hopefully Napoli learn the lessons they need from this match and get better as a result. This match was a poor performance from the partenopei and one that could wind up haunting them down the line -- but for now they have to figure out what went wrong and move on. Napoli have a busy couple of weeks and can't afford to lose confidence now. It's time to focus on Legia Warsaw, and then Roma next weekend.
Bologna: Mirante; Rossettini, Oikonomou, Gastaldello, Masina; Taider, Diawara (Pulgar 90'+2), Brienza (Brighi 65'); Rizzo (Mbaye), Destro, Mounier
Goals: Destro (14', 60'), Rossettini (21')
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj (Maggio 64'), Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan (Lopez 76'), Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon (Mertens 65'), Higuain, Insigne
Goals: Higuain (87')