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Lazio 1, Napoli 1, Coppa Italia match recap: A tale of two halves

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A dismal first half looked to have Napoli sinking in this tie, but a much-improved second half leaves things in their hands in the Coppa Italia semi-final.

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

This match started ugly for Napoli, but a much more focused effort in the second half saw them earn a draw against Lazio thanks to a goal from Manolo Gabbiadini, and left the side in an excellent position heading in to the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final.

The first half started ugly and stayed that way for Napoli, with Lazio dominating possession early on and Napoli struggling to create anything resembling danger in the final third. The lack of incisive passing from midfield with neither of Marek Hamsik nor Jorginho in the lineup really hurt Napoli in the final third when they were able to get there, especially with Jonathan de Guzman's form continuing to sag. That problem might have been abated with Dries Mertens and Manolo Gabbiadini on the pitch, but the pair were forced to stay wide by Lazio's compact defensive shape.

Things weren't helped any by Felipe Anderson and Marco Parolo dominating their individual matchups against Giandomenico Mesto and Gokhan Inler, giving Lazio an easy path down Napoli's right flank to get the ball to Miroslav Klose, with whom Raul Albiol was struggling to control.

That weakness directly lead to Lazio's goal, with Anderson shredding Mesto and running in to space that Inler would have stepped in to if not for his failing efforts to stop Parolo. Anderson was given basically a free run at goal, which Miguel Britos could have at least slowed down by stepping up in to his run, but the Uruguayan instead made a - very poor - attempt to help Albiol with Klose, but that resulted in the pair of defenders just dropping back deeper and deeper, winding up on the back foot and watching helplessly when Klose got on the ball and fired past an out-of-position Mariano Andujar, who seemed to be covering a shot from Anderson and totally oblivious of the danger from Klose.

By the end of the first half, Napoli were probably lucky to only be down one goal. Lazio had several excellent chances on either side of Klose's strike, most of which were kept out of the net as much by the hard rain making it hard to get a clean shot than by anything Napoli's defense did or that Lazio's attackers didn't do.

The second half, though, was an entirely different story. The entire side reacted well to their early struggles, coming out hard on the front foot and battling much more aggressively than they did in the first half. That lead to a number of yellow cards against Napoli - three given out against Napoli were for fouls on Klose, the last of which sparked a near-fight - but the change in momentum and energy in the match was palpable, with Lazio suddenly thrown in to a desperate defense instead of their easy control from the first half.

The change came largely thanks to a shift in philosophy from the first half - rather than trying to build up play centrally, Napoli went direct through the wings, with Faouzi Ghoulam, Dries Mertens, and Manolo Gabbiadini becoming the focus of attack instead of Gokhan Inler and Jonathan de Guzman. Indeed, de Guzman was largely cut out of the rest of the match, which wasn't necessarily the worst thing with how badly he struggled in the first half.

That new style was on display just before the hour mark, when Mertens pinged a gorgeous pass over the top right on to Gonzalo Higuain's run behind the defense. It looked for a moment that Pipita would be free through on goal, but he showed good awareness when he saw that Stefan de Vrij and goalkeeper Etrit Berisha had his run well-covered ... but that Manolo Gabbiadini was running to the far post unmarked. A quick turn outside and one touch to pull the defense further to him were all Higuain needed to open up Lazio's defense for Gabbiadini, and one lovely cutback pass later, Gabbiadini was tapping the ball in to equalize the match for Napoli.

The rest of the match took on a bit of a frantic pace, with both sides desperate to get a second goal. Napoli's defense was just able to hold on, thanks in large part to the attack keeping up enough pressure that Lazio couldn't launch forward with complete abandon. There was a moment of concern for Napoli when Miguel Britos had to be taken off with what looked like a muscular injury in his right leg, but Kalidou Koulibaly was able to replace him with his usual quality and impact.

The end result of a 1-1 scoreline favors Napoli somewhat for now thanks to the away goals rule, but that will only come in to play if the second leg ends scoreless. Knowing these two teams, that's not especially likely, but it's still a nice advantage to have for the time being, essentially giving them a clean slate to work from in the second leg with the advantage of playing at home working in their favor.

Lazio: Berisha; Basta, de Vrij, Mauricio, Radu; Cataldi, Biglia, Parolo; Candreva (Keita 72'), Klose (Perea 81'), Felipe

Goals: Klose 33'

Napoli: Andujar; Mesto, Albiol, Britos (Koulibaly 77'), Ghoulam; Inler, Lopez; Mertens, De Guzman (Hamsik 81'), Gabbiadini (Callejon 73'); Higuain

Goals: Gabbiadini 58'