Napoli needed an easy and straightforward win, and that's exactly what they got, going to Sardinia and beating Cagliari 3-0 while rarely getting out of first gear. An own goal added to much-needed strikes from Jose Callejon and Manolo Gabbiadini is just what the doctor ordered to keep Napoli's good form going.
Things got off to a bit of a hectic start, with Kalidou Koulibaly picking up an early yellow card for a rash foul after getting spun around, and Cagliari were able to use Zdenek Zeman's pell-mell attacking tactics to generate a number of half-chances through the first half. As desperate as the defending seemed at times, Napoli were able to do just enough to keep Cagliari for scoring. It may not have been pretty, but it was enough.
"Pretty" came at the other end of the pitch for Napoli, where Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne were running rampant over Cagliari's defense. It took some time and some near misses, but Napoli finally found their opening goal when Marek Hamsik expertly split Cagliari's defense with a through ball to Jose Callejon. The Spaniard had to take an extra touch when the ball appeared to get stuck under his feet for a moment, but he still finished the move with ease and left Zeljko Brkic sprawling in goal.
Napoli stayed well on top through the rest of the half, and came close to scoring a second several times. They finally did just that when Hamsik whipped in a gorgeous cross to Lorenzo Insigne at the near post, leaving Brkic wrong-footed and off-balance once again. Sadly, it wasn't Insigne who score the goal -- that would have been wonderful to see in his first start since tearing up his knee in November -- but rather a botched effort from Antonio Balzano to head the ball behind. Still, an own goal still counts, and Napoli went in to the second half with a comfortable two-goal lead.
The second half was, to be honest, a fairly dull affair. Napoli were mostly content to control the match and let the clock run down. Manolo Gabbiadini scored a gorgeous, curling goal from outside the box mere minutes after coming on for Hamsik, who was being rested for more important upcoming matches, and at 3-0, the match was well over with half an hour left to play.
That didn't mean there wouldn't be drama. Christian Maggio was sent off in the 65th minute after being shown a second yellow card for a supposed foul on Danilo Avelar. Replays showed, however, that Avelar was clearly seeking contact, even leaning back in to Maggio to over-emphasize what little there had been. Napoli were left in a lurch with just ten men on the pitch, but with Cagliari struggling to get players working together effectively in attack, they could never properly utilize their man advantage.
Instead, Napoli slowly strangled the match away, putting the match to rest and securing three much-needed points. Napoli are now just five points back of Lazio and Roma, who are tied on points in second place. Given how poorly off Napoli were just a few weeks ago, this is a stunning and wonderful turnaround. Hopefully they can keep up this form and momentum and make a whole lot of people in Italy mad at the final standings.
Cagliari: Brkic, Balzano, Rossettini, Ceppitelli, Avelar; Ekdal (Pedro 64'), Conti, Dessena; Farias (Cossu 63'), Sau (Longo 46'), Mpoku
Napoli: Andujar; Maggio (red 65'), Albiol, Koulibaly, Strinic; Jorginho, Gargano; Callejon (69'), Hamsik (Gabbiadini 56'), Insigne; Higuain (Zapata 62')
Goals: Callejon (24'), Balzano OG (45'+1), Gabbiadini (59')