One moment of poor focus and a heaping pile of bad luck meant that Napoli ended their match against Sassuolo with only one point to show for it. There were good moments to be sure — Lorenzo Insigne’s goal, for example — but the lack of a win is something that looks like it could come back to haunt Napoli before long.
Napoli started the match slow — painfully so. They were so slow out of the gate, in fact, that it looked as though Sassuolo were dominating the early stretches of the match, even if they weren’t doing anything particularly dangerous. But with Napoli so toothless going forward and unsteady in midfield, there was little to no threat from the partenopei to upset the balance of the match.
The home side finally seemed to start to wake up late in the first half, though, leading to a fantastic run of play in the last ten minutes of the half. Napoli were suddenly all over Sassuolo, and the relatively slow-footed neroverdi defense was hard-pressed to keep up. Eventually, that pressure lead to a Napoli goal, through a gorgeous assist from Marek Hamsik to one Lorenzo Insigne, who finished off the move with a fantastic finish. The goal was aided some by a deflection off ex-Napoli defender Paolo Cannavaro, who always seems to figure into these fixtures for good or ill, but no matter what, Insigne’s shot was finding the back of the net.
That positive momentum at the end of the half helped launch Napoli to a positive start to the second half, but somehow no matter what they did they couldn’t find the second goal they were looking for. Be it phenomenal saves from Andrea Consigli, deflections off defenders created by blind luck, or shots off the woodwork, Napoli were denied the goal they wanted — and the goal that it turned out they desperately needed.
That’s because in a crucial moment late in the match, just minutes after Gregoire Defrel stepped onto the pitch as a substitute, Napoli’s defense fell asleep. Ivan Strinic, who had struggled badly in the first half, was beaten soundly by Marcello Gazzola, who served up a cross in front of goal that found Defrel. That would normally not be a huge issue — Defrel’s finishing is generally quite mediocre — but the problem in the situation was that no one bothered to track Defrel’s run or mark him or even really notice that he was there. That allowed Defrel to run cleanly onto the ball and set himself up exactly how he wanted to, and he made no mistake in his finish to stun Napoli and equalize the scoreline.
The San Paolo fell eerily silent for a time, and then grew profoundly uneasy as Sassuolo pushed hard for a second goal of their own, with Napoli only narrowly avoiding disaster thanks to the crossbar. Napoli made a late push of their own, only to experience more bad luck in the final third, with narrow misses, lucky saves, and a late shot from Jose Callejon that looked certain to find the back of the net banging off the post instead.
The result is a brutal one for Napoli, who needed a win in a bad way in order to better position themselves among the teams seeking Champions League places in Serie A. Their form can still only be described as woefully inconsistent and frustrating, and that came through in a big way in this match. There were positives, to be sure — Lorenzo Insigne was fantastic again, Marek Hamsik was excellent, and Vlad Chiriches impressed outside of his part in the collective defensive brainfart that lead to Sassuolo’s goal.
But under the circumstances, those positives are heavily outweighed by the frustrating lack of consistency or overall quality that Napoli displayed. They needed to start finding answers for themselves against Sassuolo to start turning around their recent struggles, but instead they found none.
Doomed to disappointment. Again.
On to the next.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Chiriches, Koulibaly, Strinic; Allan, Jorginho (Diawara 78’), Hamsik; Callejon, Gabbiadini (Mertens 64’), Insigne (Giaccherini 86’)
Goal: Insigne (42’)
Sassuolo: Consigli; Gazzola, Cannavaro, Acerbi, Peluso; Mazzitelli (Pellegrini 60’), Magnanelli, Missiroli (Defrel 71’); Politano (Ricci 38’), Matri, Ragusa
Goal: Defrel (81’)