Napoli went down early, but fought back and ultimately came out 3-1 winners against Sassuolo to stay on top of Serie A and extend their lead in the table. Gonzalo Higuain's brace lead the charge, but top-shelf performances from Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik, and Lorenzo Insigne cannot be overlooked as a huge part of Napoli's vital win.
Things got off to a disastrous start when referee Piero Giacomelli was forced to point to the spot just 90 seconds into the match when Nicola Sansone got the best of Raul Albiol in Napoli's penalty area and drew a foul for his trouble. There was no real doubt about it either -- Sansone crossed Albiol up so badly that he threw a leg out in desperation and tripped the Italian winger. The penalty was converted, and Napoli trailed before they could even get a chance to establish the pace of the match.
Establish is they did, though, taking the proceedings to Sassuolo early and often as they pushed hard for an equalizer. Napoli played hard and high, positioning themselves higher up the pitch than we typically have seen under Maurizio Sarri, and knocking Sassuolo completely off balance in doing so. That pressure helped create Napoli's first goal, with a run to the end line from Lorenzo Insigne drawing attention and allowing Jose Callejon to slip through Sassuolo's line to head home Insigne's cross.
From there, it was all Napoli. The direction of traffic was almost one-way, with Sassuolo only rarely getting much in the way of attacks going. They had one brief flurry of offense right after the match restarted following Napoli's goal, then not one more shot threatened Pepe Reina's goal the rest of the half. The story was not the same at Sassuolo's end of the pitch, with numerous Napoli shots giving way to another moment of excellent movement creating a goal -- this time with a step-fake from Gonzalo Higuain freezing multiple Sassuolo defenders, allowing him to slip through and slam home a pass from Marek Hamsik.
The second half was largely controlled by Napoli, though a handful of nervous moments started popping up later in the half as the partenopei started to wear down. Nicola Sansone in particular was a menace, constantly popping up all over the final third to cause chaos. Those scares lead Sarri to sub out a tiring Hamsik for the greater defensive steel offered by David Lopez, and that move paid off, dramatically decreasing the number of chances Sassuolo had to cause problems -- though not eliminating them entirely, as shown by the heart-stopping moment when Pepe Reina came flying 20 yards outside of his penalty area to break up a counter attack.
Fortunately Reina won his tackle and Napoli got into extra time with their lead intact -- and then a second Higuain strike was all they needed to finish the game off. The strike was Higuain's 20th goal in 20 league matches, a show of goalscoring dominance that Serie A hasn't seen in a long, long time.
The win serves to not only keep Napoli atop the table, but extend their lead in it -- Inter Milan drew with Atalanta on Saturday morning, meaning this win gives Napoli a four-point edge on the team that used to lead the league before Napoli knocked them down a peg last weekend. Juventus could close that gap to two points on Sunday, but that's something we can worry about later.
For right now, it's time to enjoy the glow -- and to get ready to face Inter in the Coppa Italia in a few days. On to the next.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Chiriches (Koulibaly 68'), Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik (Lopez 87'); Callejon, Higuain, Insigne (Mertens 77')
Goals: Callejon (19'), Higuain (42', 90'+3)
Sassuolo: Consigli; Vrsaljko, Acerbi, Ariaudo, Peluso; Missiroli (Pellegrini 15'), Duncan, Magnanelli; Sansone, Falcinelli, Politano (Floro Flores 68', Defrel 83')
Goal: Falcinelli (pen. 3')