The Stadio Luigi Ferraris lacked it's usual intimidating nature as Napoli came out 4-2 winners over Sampdoria, with four different Napoli players finding their way onto the scoresheet. There were nervy moments as Sampdoria twice cut the partenopei lead to a single goal, but Maurizio Sarri's squad continuously did exactly what they needed to in order to assure themselves of coming away with all three points.
Things started out in what can only be described as hilarious fashion. In the ninth minute of the match, Sampdoria midfielder Edgar Barreto was under pressure from Marek Hamsik and, as you often see from a midfielder in that situation, passed it back to his defense. Instead of passing it to one of three defenders in a ten-yard radius of each other, though, Barreto passed it straight to the man standing between all three of them -- Gonzalo Higuain. Needless to say, Pipita had an easy time scoring from there, turning into space, running for a bit, and slotting past a helpless Emiliano Viviano in goal to give Napoli an early lead.
That lead was doubled when Barreto again wound up with egg on his face, this time felling Raul Albiol on the penalty spot during a corner kick. Despite the commentators' insistence that Higuain should be taking the spot kick, it was Lorenzo Insigne who stepped up, and converted the penalty with ease before showing his love for the traveling Napoli fans.
It looked like Napoli were kicking off another of their ultra-dominant matches that we've seen quite a few of this season -- but after dominating the run of play for the first half hour, Napoli started to lose steam, gifting Sampdoria a chance to score just before the half when Carlos Carbonero made a fantastic run through midfield and sent a ball through to Joaquin Correa to pounce on and cut Napoli's lead in half. Eder's quality dummy helped, but Napoli still made it too easy for the trio to get up the pitch and create their scoring chance, as they'd made it too easy few a few other warning-sign scoring chances in the 15 minutes before it.
That sent Napoli fans into halftime fearing a repeat of the early-season match between these teams at the San Paolo that saw Sampdoria come back from a 2-0 deficit to steal a point during Napoli's season-opening doldrums. And after Napoli looked listless in their loss to Inter in the Coppa Italia midweek -- not to mention the distracting mess centered on Sarri since then -- who could blame them? This time, though, that was not to be.
After an opening 15 minutes to the second half when a flock of pigeons were the star attraction -- that's not a joke, they were quite amusing to watch zip around the action -- the match was turned on its head when Mattia Cassani was sent off for earning a second yellow card, this one for tripping Insigne clumsily on a counter attack. Napoli immediately took full advantage of the opportunity, with Marek Hamsik barreling through Sampdoria's suddenly-shorthanded defense to poke a crucial third goal home and restore Napoli's two-goal lead.
That goal would prove to be extra vital less than a quarter of an hour later. Napoli's set-piece defense broke down in a bad way, with Eder being given an easy chance to pop out of the crowd to lash a header across Pepe Reina. The Spaniard tried to get down to stop it, but didn't have enough time to react thanks to how close Eder was when he flicked his header down, and the ball went under Reina's arms and into the back of the net.
The hosts' celebrations were short-lived, though -- Dries Mertens was subbed into the match shortly after that goal, and just a few short minutes later he juked makeshift right back Carlos Carbonero right onto his posterior, giving the tricky Belgian all the time he needed and then some to pick his spot to score.
That 4-2 scoreline would be the final one, with Napoli easing through the final minutes, taking full advantage of the 11-vs-10 situation on the pitch to play keep away and blunt Sampdoria's attack. It was perhaps an ironic way to cap off the match, as Napoli's failure to play keep away helped lead to both Sampdoria goals, but it was certainly effective.
Those two mistakes aside, Napoli played an excellent match and bounced back wonderfully from their Coppa disappointment, assuring themselves another week atop Serie A. With Inter dropping points in a last-minute draw with Carpi and Juventus set to be tested by a slowly-improving Roma side, the partenopei could even see their lead atop the table extended, something every fan would gladly see.
Next up? A date at the San Paolo with Empoli, whom Napoli are trying to take a couple players from before the match. Should be fun. On to the next.
Napoli: Reina: Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam (Strinic 71'); Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon (El Kaddouro 84'), Higuain, Insigne (Mertens 75')
Goals: Higuain (9'), Insigne (pen. 18'), Hamsik (60'), Mertens (79')
Sampdoria: Viviano; Cassani (red 59'), Moisander, Zukanovic, Regini; Barreto (Alvarez 56'), Fernando; Carbonero, Correa (Ivan 80'), Eder; Cassano (Dodo 65')
Goals: Correa (45'), Eder (73')