That was a mess. Napoli went down to Empoli right away, got a goal back, then went down again, all before 20 minutes had gone by. The rest of the match wasn't much better for the partenopei, though a second-half goal from Allan meant that Napoli came away with a 2-2 draw.
The start was absolutely miserable, with Empoli attacker Riccardo Saponara gutting Napoli's defense when -- guess who! -- Raul Albiol stopped closing him down for no apparent reason. It was a hauntingly familiar goal for Napoli to give up, something we've seen too often over the last two-plus seasons. It was a quality goal, make no mistake -- the run and control and finish that Saponara executed were all very good. But if Albiol, and Elseid Hysaj to a lesser extent, don't fall asleep, Saponara never gets that chance.
Fortunately, Napoli have an excellent little player in their attack. Maybe you've heard of him -- Lorenzo Insigne. Just a few minutes later, Insigne struck a Manolo Gabbiadini cross on a half-volley and just scorched it, hitting a laser shot into the top corner well out of the reach of Empoli's goalkeeper.
It seemed for a few minutes that Napoli would use that equalizer as a springboard to really establish control of the match, playing some bright football for a few minutes. That didn't last long, with Albiol again getting victimized in defense, once more by Saponara as he set up Manuel Pucciarelli for Empoli's second goal just 18 minutes into the match.
Even while trailing in a must-win match, Napoli struggled to get much in the way of good scoring chances going, or even a lot in the way of quality possession. Indeed, for the rest of the half Empoli had more of the better attacking chances, and there wasn't much reason for optimism heading into the half.
Napoli gave us reason to hope early in the half, though, with Allan converting a lovely attacking move from Marek Hamsik and Gabbiadini just a few minutes in. It wasn't the best finish in the world, but it got the job done and the buildup was gorgeous.
The partenopei looked much brighter than they had in the first half, playing some actually dangerous attacking football and regularly threatening at goal, but even as Empoli wore down late in the match, they couldn't convert their chances. Their substitutions were a mixed bag in terms of impact -- Sarri was forced into replacing Mirko Valdifiori with Jorginho when Valdifiori went down with what looked like a calf injury, but Jorginho actually was quite helpful, especially compared to Mirko's struggles on the day. Gabbiadini coming off for Dries Mertens was less helpful than one might have hoped, but replacing Insigne -- Napoli's best player on the day by a fair ways -- with Jose Callejon was nothing short of shooting themselves in the foot, with the Spaniard really struggling to make a positive impact on the day.
Even with those less-helpful-than-hoped substitutions, though, Napoli still had a chance to win it at the death, when a close-range shot from Hamsik was parried away and the rebound fell to Callejon with the goal at his mercy -- only for his shot to strike off the post and skip away harmlessly. Honestly, that about sums up Napoli's season.
And so it is that Napoli are still winless after three matches, having given up two goals in each Serie A match so far this season and scoring only five of their own. The sad thing is, given the way the two teams played, a draw was probably the fair result. That's not great to say of a team of Napoli's stature playing against Empoli.
The pressure has to be mounting on Maurizio Sarri now. Napoli simply cannot afford further setbacks, even if they're in the middle of a transition. This team needs to be competitive in Serie A this season, battling in the upper reach of the table. So far, they've looked like anything but that. Now with their first Europa League match followed closely by a tough match against Lazio, it's time for Napoli to put up or shut up. If they don't start turning things around soon, Sarri might not be a Napoli manager for long.
Empoli: Lukasz Skorupski; Marco Zambelli, Luca Tonelli, Federico Barba, Mario Rui; Piotr Zielinski (Leandro Paredes 70'), Assane Diousse, Daniele Croce; Riccardo Saponara; Manuel Pucciarelli, Massimo Maccarone (Marko Livaja 68')
Goals: Saponara (3'), Pucciarelli (18')
Napoli: Pepe Reina; Christian Maggio, Raul Albiol, Vlad Chiriches, Elseid Hysaj; Allan, Mirko Valdifiori (Jorginho 59'), Marek Hamsik; Lorenzo Insigne (Jose Callejon 71'); Manolo Gabbiadini (Dries Mertens 65'), Gonzalo Higuain
Goals: Insigne (7'), Allan (50')