Was it pretty? No. Was it inspiring? Not really. But it was a win for Napoli, who scored twice in the second half to put Empoli down 2-0 in a match with a heavily rotated and shorthanded side.
It was, for the second match in a row, not a particularly inspiring performance from Napoli, though it was perhaps understandable under the circumstances. With a patchwork attack, featuring Dries Mertens playing wildly out of position, and several key players rested, there was only so much Napoli were going to be able to do.
Despite that, Napoli got a win and a clean sheet, and the performance wasn’t actually all that bad aside from a few nervy moments. Despite Mertens struggling for space up top for much of the match, he capitalized on most of the scoring chances that came his way, working with Jose Callejon to batter Lukasz Skorupski in goal with shots to save. To his credit, Empoli’s goalkeeper had an absolutely phenomenal showing, keeping Mertens restrained to a single goal, making a number of phenomenal saves and forcing Mertens and Callejon to make several less-than-optimal shots thanks to his reactions and positioning.
Things got a bit shaky after Mertens’ opening goal early in the second half, with Empoli pushing forward with intent for the first time all match long. They managed to match Napoli out on the counter several times thanks to poor transition play from Jorginho and a dreadful overall performance from Christian Maggio, but the combination of Kalidou Koulibaly and Vlad Chiriches rose to the occasion in central defense and largely shut their opponents down. Between them and a couple of good saves from Pepe Reina, Empoli’s few good attacking thrusts were kept from getting too dangerous.
Fortunately, Napoli responded well to their defensive woes through the substitutions made by Maurizio Sarri. Jorginho and Maggio were taken off the pitch for Amadou Diawara and Elseid Hysaj, and those two relatively simple changes made a big impact on the side, adding energy and defensive surety at two spots that had been suffering for those factors all game long.
Given his quality at the back, it just kinda makes sense that Napoli’s second and game-securing goal came from Chiriches, who popped up at the far post of one of Napoli’s few “actually send the call in” corner kicks to tap the ball in. After a match full of gimmicky corner routines and short corners, it was good to see Napoli actually take a real corner, and even better to see them convert it.
In the end, it wasn’t a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but Napoli got the three points they needed and easily outplayed a lesser opponent doing it, even without a nearly full-strength team. That’s a big step up from the weekend. Now they have to deal with a huge challenge in facing Juventus this weekend, but they’re actually starting to look ready for it now.
On to the next.