Many Napoli fans were hopeful of getting something positive out of this match, even though Wolfsburg came in to this match flying high and seeming to be well-suited to tearing Napoli a new one. Instead it was Napoli doing the tearing, to the tune of a shocking 4-1 result that saw the vesuviani run rampant over Wolfsburg.
In the early minutes of the match, this result seemed remote. Wolfsburg were sharper, more confident, more aggressive, and more effective in the opening stanza, with Napoli mostly limited to hopeful counter attacks and trying to fend off Wolfsburg's attack. Kevin De Bruyne in particular was running rampant, frequently kicking out to Napoli's right side to work against Christian Maggio, who struggled badly every time the Belgian came his way.
All that changed when Napoli started to swing the momentum their way, getting Marek Hamsik on the ball more and driving forward with greater effect. That quickly paid off when Hamsik played a ball out to Dries Mertens in space, who then saw Gonzalo Higuain making a run to get behind Wolfsburg's defense. He knocked the ball down with ease and hit a sweet strike on the half-volley to give Napoli a surprising, but most welcome, early 1-0 lead.
But Napoli didn't stop there. They seized their advantage with both hands and started bludgeoning Wolfsburg with it, and just eight minutes later they had a 2-0 lead. Maggio fed Higuain along the right wing, and Higuain chipped a gorgeous pass over the top between Wolfsburg's defenders -- and a streaking Hamsik caught up to it, executing a perfectly-timed run to latch on to the pass and hammer it home. Napoli had their swagger back, and oh boy was it fun.
The match evened out after Napoli's second goal and Wolfsburg even managed another dangerous spell of play before the halftime whistle, but Napoli were definitely full value for their lead. They came out swinging again in the second half, and after trading blows with Wolfsburg for awhile, it was -- somehow still surprisingly -- Napoli who found the third goal of the match. It was Hamsik again, this time playing opportunist with Jose Callejon pouncing on a sloppy pass in front of Wolfsburg's defense, and the club's captain had a brace and Napoli had three away goals.
Hamsik wouldn't get the chance to complete a hat trick, getting subbed out for Manolo Gabbiadini ten minutes after his second goal, but his replacement didn't wait long to extend Napoli's lead to four goals. A clever ball in to the six yard box from Lorenzo Insigne was spilled by Wolfsburg's goalkeeper, and Gabbiadini was there to pounce, giving Napoli a huge lead, four away goals, and quite possibly putting the entire tie to bed in the first leg.
Wolfsburg would manage a consolation goal when Nicklas Bendtner took advantage of a defensive mistake himself, but at 4-1 and with the tie heading to the San Paolo, Napoli have to feel awfully good about their chances of making the Europa League semifinal. After two months of struggles, this match coupled with the weekend's big win over Fiorentina -- well, what a difference a week makes.
Wolfsburg: Benaglio; Vieirinha, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez; Gustavo, Guilavogui (Arnold 70'); Caligiuri, De Bruyne, Schurrle (Perisic 64'); Dost (Bendtner 57')
Goal: Bendtner (80')
Napoli: Andujar; Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam; Lopez, Inler; Callejon, Hamsik (Gabbiadini 75'), Mertens (Insigne 60'); Higuain (Henrique 86')
Goals: Higuain (15'), Hamsik (23', 64'), Gabbiadini (77')