A switch in shape and an adjustment to personnel seems to have unlocked something Napoli were missing this season, allowing them to pulverize a pretty good Club Brugge side 5-0, thanks to braces from Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon, and a goal from Marek Hamsik just for fun.
The celebrations started almost right away, with an aggressive start to play from Napoli. They flew forward from the first whistle, pushing high up the pitch with almost reckless abandon -- almost, because it actually worked. Their pressure kept Brugge's defense off-balance in the opening spell, so when Jose Callejon slightly mis-hit a cross meant for Gonzalo Higuain, Sinan Bolat was pulled in too many directions in goal to keep it from sneaking in under the crossbar.
Just before the 20th minute, the pressure remained and Callejon actually executed his cross this time, finding Dries Mertens zipping through the defense right in front of goal. It was a simple finish for Mertens to put it away, but his second goal against his Beligan countrymen six minutes later was much more difficult -- a cross-body half-volley that he lashed across the face of goal to nestle inside of the far post.
The rest of the first half would go scoreless, but it was tough not to be impressed by Napoli's overall play. They kept threatening in attack, and when Brugge were able to build up some possession and start to get forward, the midfield and defense both looked much more organized and effective at keeping them at bay. That would seem to be down largely to some changes in personnel, as the switch to the 4-3-3 instead of a 4-3-1-2 only affects how the front three play for Napoli's setup.
Starting Jorginho at the base of midfield and Faouzi Ghoulam at left back has something of a cascading effect -- Jorginho's been the better regista compared to Mirko Valdifiori this season, looking much more calm in possession and much tidier in defense. That helped free up Marek Hamsik and David Lopez to play to their strengths, instead of covering for the things that Valdifiori wasn't doing. Starting Ghoulam at left back allowed Hysaj to play on his natural right side, taking a lot of coverage pressure off of Raul Albiol by taking Christian Maggio off the pitch. It also added a better element to Napoli's attack, giving them a better presence coming forward from their fullbacks.
Indeed, the fullbacks' attacking influence was felt early in the second half, as bombing runs from both Ghoulam and Hysaj helped pull apart the Club Brugge defense, helping give Hamsik the space he needed to get into the box, pressure the goalkeeper, and force the mistake that gifted him his goal.
At 4-0, Napoli could be forgiven for taking things easy for the rest of the match, but they didn't do that. They did start slowly pulling starters off the pitch -- Hamsik, a luckless Gonzalo Higuain, and Mertens were all subbed out -- but Callejon wasn't done scoring, and his second was even intentional! Allan lobbed in a gorgeous ball over the top to Ziggy, who was perfectly positioned to get behind Brugge's center backs to latch onto it. He did, and one silky finish over a flailing Sinan Bolat later, Napoli had a 5-0 lead.
Callejon tried and failed to complete his hat trick a couple of times, but it's not as though it was necessary. Napoli routed Club Brugge, keeping them at bay almost effortlessly during the closing minutes of the match. It's a resounding statement win for Napoli, who just took down the team that represented their toughest challenge in the group with almost contemptuous ease. They looked lethally effective, and if they can carry over this kind of form to the league -- look out.
Oh, and this was officially Napoli's biggest ever European win, eclipsing last season's away leg of the Wolfsburg tie. Not bad, Napoli. Not bad.
Napoli: Pepe Reina; Elseid Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam; David Lopez, Jorginho, Marek Hamsik (Allan 62'); Jose Callejon, Gonzalo Higuain (Manolo Gabbiadini 71'), Dries Mertens (Lorenzo Insigne 75')
Goals: Callejon (5', 77'), Mertens (19', 25'), Hamsik (53')
Club Brugge: Sinan Bolat; Thomas Meunier, Oscar Duarte, Brandon Mechele, Laurens De Bock; Ruud Vormer, Timmy Simons; Abdoulaye Diaby (Claudemir 60'), Victor Vazquez (Davy de Fauw 69'), Bloi Mbombo (Jose Izquierdo 46'), Leandro Pereira