Oh how I wish we were talking about a win. For so long, it looked like we would. Napoli were up 2-0 and cruising with less than half an hour to play. Then everything changed, the momentum shifted hard against Napoli, and the team walked off the pitch with their heads hanging low after slumping to a 2-2 draw against Inter Milan.
The worst part is that Napoli absolutely dominated Inter in the first half. They beat the pants off the Nerazzurri up and down the pitch, but couldn't make the most of their chances. Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain each messed up a couple really good chances to score, with Higuain's two-yard open goal miss standing out strongly as the worst miss of the lot.
Things were better early in the second half. Napoli's control of the match continued, with Marek Hamsik scoring a lovely header in the 51st minute and Gonzalo Higuain scoring an absolute belter in the 63rd. It looked as though Napoli would win this match easily, pulling closer to still-faltering Roma and hopefully pulling away from the pack of clubs sitting not far behind them in the table.
Then Inter scored when Mariano Andujar and Raul Albiol both made a hash out of a loose ball in the box. That caused Rafa Benitez to start making substitutions, and everything went to hell in a handbasket.
The first player he took off, Dries Mertens, was tired. The sub was understandable. Putting on Jonathan De Guzman, however, was stupid. The Dutch international has been in terrible form of late, and with how he was playing he offered nothing to a team trying to protect a lead and strike on the counter attack. Then he further complicated the mistake by pulling off Marek Hamsik, the only Napoli player offering crap for creativity on the pitch, and replacing him with Manolo Gabbiadini. Gabbi does many good things for Napoli, but creativity isn't one of them.
The changes sucked any and all attacking momentum that Napoli had out of the match and allowed Inter to steadily build more in to the match, especially once Gokhan Inler and David Lopez started pushing harder to make up for the attack's deficiencies. That gave Inter the space and opportunity to drive harder and harder, leading to Henrique's sloppy challenge in the box, giving Inter a too-easy penalty that Mauro Icardi converted with far too much ease and getting him sent off for a second yellow card.
The collapse was awful. Pathetic. Absurd. Unconscionable. Unforgivable. It's on both Rafa Benitez and the players on the pitch. Rafa made critical mistakes with his subs and then the players compounded the mistake by losing their concentration and eventually their calm. After such a strong start, the finish was terrible and is not something Napoli can possibly afford to have happen again. They've suffered too many setbacks in opportunity, and now may even lose out on third place depending on Monday's result in the Lazio-Fiorentina match. This is... infuriating.
Napoli: Andujar; Henrique (red 86'), Albiol, Koulibaly, Strinic; Inler, Lopez; Callejon (Mesto 88'), Hamsik (Gabbiadini 79'), Mertens (De Guzman 73'); Higuain
Goals: Hamsik 51', Higuain 63'
Inter: Handanovic, D'Ambrosio, Ranocchia, Juan (Puscas 84'), Santon, Guarin, Medel, Brozovic (Hernanes 64'), Shaqiri, Palacio, Icardi
Goals: Palacio 72', Icardi (pen.) 87'