With a win, Napoli would have put significant pressure on Roma in second place and been able to pull even further away from the pack chasing them for third place. With a win, Napoli would have extended their four-match league win streak. With a win, Napoli would have discarded the shame of throwing away two leads to slump to a draw the last time they faced Palermo.
That didn't so much happen.
Napoli got worked over by Palermo all match long, getting torn apart on several counters and proving unable to adequately penetrate their defense to create chances. Napoli dominated possession all match long, but that was fine as far as their hosts were concerned; Palermo sat with eight men behind the ball when they were out of possession and relied on their effective counter attack to get results.
And boy did that ever work.
After a couple close calls in the opening spell of the match, Napoli's midfield started pulling back deeper and earlier than before, which Palermo fullback Achraf Lazaar noticed not long after he crossed the halfway line as Palermo rushed forward on another counter. No Napoli player was within 20 yards of him and Rafael Cabral was cheating to his right to cover a double run from Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez to that near post, so Lazaar uncorked a 40-yard blast just to see what happened. That turned out to be Rafael being a beat slow to get behind the shot and being left helpless as the ball skipped off the turf right in front of him and knuckled away at a steep angle, too close and too fast for him to react in time.
Napoli had a couple of decent half-chances after falling behind, but sadly they both fell to Jonathan De Guzman, and ... well, you know where that story is going. They weren't sitters this time, but apparently De Guzman isn't that picky on what kind of shots he messes up. Gonzalo Higuain had a chance as well, but a lack of support meant that he was surrounded and his shot was deflected easily to Stefano Sorrentino's waiting arms.
Napoli tried to make it through to halftime without the scoreline worsening, but just couldn't manage it. They almost gave up one goal on a counter when Francesco Bolzoni blazed wide after being fed by Dybala right in front of goal, then minutes later Ivan Strinic got skinned by Robin Quaison, who chipped a long ball up over a statuesque Raul Albiol to Dybala. The Argentine made a couple quick moves and found Vazquez running up unmarked in support and ... well, you can guess the rest. Perhaps Rafael could have done better on that shot, but so many things went wrong in front of him before Vazquez swung his leg that he never even should have been called in to action.
The second half was, for the most part, forgettable. Marek Hamsik was subbed out with a knock early in the half, and with De Guzman trying to pull the strings instead, what little attacking momentum Napoli had evaporated. Higuain was stranded up top without support, Jose Callejon was in Lazaar's pocket, and De Guzman was De Guzman'ing all over the pitch. Even Strinic struggled mightily all day, his normally accurate crosses going wayward on him and his passing suffering as well.
That poor passing from Strinic would cost Napoli again, when another counter attack lead to Dybala and Vazquez combining to set up yet another Palermo goal, this time finished off by Luca Rigoni. It was a not-so-fun capper on an embarrassing performance by Napoli.
The partenopei did manage to snag a consolation goal late on; Manolo Gabbiadini got enough of a flick on a De Guzman free kick that it left Sorrentino off-balance and helpless as it went to the far post. Gabbiadini and fellow sub Duvan Zapata combined to create several other moments of danger late in the match, but it was too little, too late as Palermo finished off the huge upset.
The loss is a major setback for Napoli - they had a chance to pull within a point of Roma heading in to Sunday's matches, but now could end the weekend a full seven points back from the giallorossi instead. That essentially puts their chase for second place back to square one, and with Fiorentina winning today, they're now just four points behind Napoli. Sampdoria and Lazio both have winnable matches as well, putting real heat on Napoli's hold on third place.
This was a bad day for Napoli not to show its fans some love.
Palermo: Sorrentino; Rispoli, Andelkovic, Terzi, Lazaar; Bolzoni, Rigoni, Barreto (Jajalo 85'); Quaison (Chochev 69'), Vazquez (Belotti 78'); Dybala
Goals: Lazaar 14', Vazquez 35', Rigoni 65'
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Strinic; Jorginho, Lopez (Gargano 69'); Callejon, Hamsik (Gabbiadini 54'), De Guzman; Higuain (Zapata 73')
Goals: Gabbiadini 82'