It’s a celebratory mood in Naples on Tuesday night, because Napoli are coming home having won their Champions League match against Benfica in Portugal 2-1, a result that sees them win Group B with 11 points, their first ever Champions League group win. Goals from Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens sent them on their way, and the performance was one well deserving of the result.
The match started slowly, with Napoli playing conservatively and trying not to lose. That nearly worked against them, with two narrow escapes from defensive errors gifting Benfica prime scoring chances, but they made it to halftime with the draw intact, and that draw was what they needed to guarantee advancement.
But with halftime came the team being given the news that group rivals Besiktas were down a staggering 4-0 to Dynamo Kyiv, a result that gave Napoli a lot more freedom and room to work with on the pitch, as not having to worry about Besiktas getting points and holding tiebreakers over them removed any need for conservatism.
That saw Napoli come out of the gates swinging in the second half, and it quickly became apparent that Benfica weren’t ready for it. A substitution early in the match to take a tiring Manolo Gabbiadini off the pitch — who had actually been quite good despite Napoli’s slow start — in favor of Dries Mertens, who added an extra bit of spark and pace to an attack already threatening to overwhelm their opponents.
That quickly paid dividends, with Mertens feeding Jose Callejon to score a remarkable opening goal, one that perfectly summed up how well Napoli’s attack can function when it’s clicking. Mertens would score one of his own 19 minutes later, the result of a lovely little bob and weave through the box that left Luisao with a lot of egg on his face for how badly Mertens worked him over.
Benfica would get back a goal of their own thanks to a bad mistake by Raul Albiol on the ball, but the final outcome was never in doubt. Napoli won the match, Napoli won their group, and they’re going into the knockout rounds in style. This outcome is a huge weight off their shoulders, and should help propel their overall form much higher, something that will be key as Italy approaches the winter break.
We did it. On to the next.
Napoli: Pepe Reina; Elseid Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam; Allan, Amadou Diawara, Marek Hamsik (Piotr Zielisnki 72’); Jose Callejon, Manolo Gabbiadini (Dries Mertens 57’), Lorenzo Insigne (Marko Rog 80’)
Goals: Callejon (60’), Mertens (79’)
Benfica: Ederson; Nelson Semedo, Luisao, Lindelof, Andre Almeida; Eduardo Salvio (Kostas Mitroglu 80’), Fejsa, Pizzi, Cervi (Andre Carrillo 68’); Goncalo Guedes (Rafa 57’), Raul Jimenez
Goal: Jimenez (87’)