Napoli got exactly the result they so badly needed, absolutely battering Chievo Verona en route to a 3-1 win. Gonzalo Higuain started the scoring with his 27th Serie A goal of the season, and goals from Vlad Chiriches and Jose Callejon ensured that Napoli snapped their five-match winless streak.
The match got off to a disastrous start, however, with Nicola Rigoni scoring at the one minute mark after a horrifying gaffe from Vlad Chiriches gifted him with a chance, made worse when Pepe Reina slipped trying to get into position for a save. It was the exact kind of nightmare start that Napoli knew they had to avoid, but they just couldn't seem to keep themselves from getting egg on their faces.
Fortunately, Gonzalo Higuain is still around. The Argentine hitman capitalized on Napoli dominating play after Chievo's goal, and made sure that their lead didn't last -- just five minutes after going down, Higuain latched onto a Faouzi Ghoulam low cross and hit it first time into the back of the net with almost contemptuous ease. It wasn't a fancy goal, but it was exactly what Napoli needed in the moment, and that's all that matters.
Napoli continued to absolutely dominate the first half, absolutely battering Chievo's defense all day long. The left side of Napoli's attack in particular proved lethal, with Lorenzo Insigne, Marek Hamsik, and Faouzi Ghoulam just carving up Chievo's defense time and time and time again. It took a long time for another goal toe come, though, and it actually took a corner to unlock Chievo's packed in defense.
A short corner drill that saw Napoli make several successive passes to work the ball to the top of the box caught Chievo's defenders in two minds, trying to decide whether they should step up or stay back. During that moment of confusion, Chiriches slipped clean around Rigoni, victimizing the man who had left him spinning in the first minute of the match to give Napoli the lead and make up for his early mistake.
That 2-1 lead held through halftime and well into the second half, where the story was much the same. Napoli continued to absolutely dominate the run of play, and while Chievo managed to get a few chances going forward, they were absolutely helpless to keep Napoli from charging up. Only a couple of fortunate blocks and the crossbar kept Napoli from scoring again through much of the half -- but it was only a matter of time before Napoli found their third goal.
This time it was Allan, fresh off the substitute's bench, who got space running forward and sent in a curling cross that Jose Callejon pounced on and hammered home. It was a wonderful moment for Callejon to see him score, because he'd been struggling on the day, frequently mis-timing runs and catching more than a few forearms to his face for his trouble.
That would be the final goal of the match, though not for a lack of trying from Napoli. In the end they would out-shoot Chievo Verona, with 26 shots to the Flying Donkeys' eight., and held the ball for nearly 70% of the match. The 3-1 result and utter domination of the run of play was the exact kind of emphatic performance Napoli needed coming off their recent rut, and now with a -- temporary -- hold of first place in the league, Napoli and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief and look to the title race once more instead of just trying to hold on.
Now it's time to prepare for Palermo next weekend. On to the next.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Chiriches, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Lopez (Allan 67'), Jorginho, Hamsik (Chalobah 86'); Callejon, Higuain, Insigne (Mertens 71')
Goals: Higuain (6'), Chiriches (38'), Callejon (70')
Chievo Verona: Bizzarri; Frey, Dainelli, Cesar, Cacciatore; Radovanovic, Rigoni, Castro; Birsa (Meggiorini 64'); Mpoku, Pellissier (Floro Flores 55')
Goals: Rigoni (1')