A strong start was undone by a bad second half for Napoli as a chaotic game against Fiorentina ended in a 3-3 draw. What looked like a strong win to end the first half of the season quickly turned to ashes during a disastrous half-hour spell that saw a lot of fun moments for Napoli get soured by too many of the same old problems.
The game started bizarrely, with Raul Albiol getting booked in the first minute for a foul that was sloppy but hardly egregious. Then Lorenzo Insigne caused panic in the Fiorentina defense with a mazy run and shot, and as play restarted from there in the third minute, Nikola Kalinic was quickly booked for a challenge on Jose Callejon. While Kalinic did hit a bit late and with studs showing, you generally don’t see a foul like that earn a yellow card that early in the match, but referee Paolo Tagliavento wasn’t having it.
After that screwy start to the match, though, Napoli started controlling things pretty easily. Fiorentina struggled to keep up with how Napoli were moving the ball around, and they had a lot of near-miss scoring chances going their way. Insigne, though, wasn’t satisfied with near-misses, curling in an absolutely jaw-dropping goal in the 25th minute that drew comparisons to Alessandro Del Piero. There were some claims of offside from those watching, but it was close and everybody on the field were too busy trying to find their missing jaws to care.
That goal saw Napoli through to halftime, though not without problems — Dries Mertens took a hard shot to his knee, and Vlad Chiriches slowly broke down over a 20 minute spell after appearing to tweak his hamstring. It finally hit the point where he couldn’t go on, and shortly before halftime Nikola Maksimovic had to come on for him in defense.
The second half was decidedly less good for Napoli, even if Dries Mertens scored a great goal alone the way. The trouble is that before that goal, Napoli gave up a soft free kick that lead to a wickedly deflected equalizer for Fiorentina, and immediately after that goal Napoli’s defense went to sleep and Pepe Reina was a beat slow in reacting to a long-range shot from Federico Bernardeschi for another equalizer.
Things went from bad to worse when substitute Mauro Zarate scored a goal as soft as silk to give Fiorentina a late lead. Napoli had utterly collapsed over the course of half an hour, and rarely looked like the same kind of threat they had earlier in the match. They were too easy to expose with balls over the top, and let themselves get far too stretched out too many times, and Fiorentina were more than up to the task of taking advantage of it.
Yes, Napoli equalized right at the end of the match thanks to a cleverly-earned penalty from Dries Mertens — suckering in Carlos Salcedo at the edge of the box and darting away to force a desperation challenge -- and one that Manolo Gabbiadini converted well. That doesn’t change the fact that this was, for all intents and purposes, an abysmal performance for Napoli and one that undid a lot of the good work the team has been doing of late.
Napoli have a lot of questions to answer going into the winter break now, a lot more than they should have had. This looked like it was going to be a relatively straightforward match for them at halftime, but everything unraveled for them after the break. They adjusted poorly and that cost them badly — and now they have two and a half weeks to figure it out.
On to the next. The next year, that is.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Chiriches (Maksimovic 43’), Ghoulam; Zielinski (Allan 70’), Diawara (Gabbiadini 86’), Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Goals: Insigne (25’), Mertens (68’), Gabbiadini (pen. 90’+3)
Fiorentina: Tatarusanu; Salcedo, Tomovic, Astori, Olivera; Cristoforo (Zarate 73’), Badelj (Sanchez 73’), Vecino; Chiesa (Diks 87’), Kalinic, Bernadeschi
Goals: Bernardeschi (51’, 69’), Zarate (82’)