It wasn't always pretty, but it got the job done -- Napoli got the win they so dearly needed, beating Atalanta 2-1 to stay ahead of Roma in the race to finish second in Serie A. Marek Hamsik was the star of the show, but it was Gonzalo Higuain who finished off the chances that saw Napoli earn the much-needed three points.
Napoli worked early to put Atalanta on their heels, and that paid dividends with a 10th-minute goal from Gonzalo Higuain that seemed like the start of a special match. Atalanta were reeling, Napoli were rolling, and great things seemed to be in store.
Yeah. Not so much.
Atalanta pulled into a bunker, and Napoli bogged down. They had plenty of chances, to be sure -- Marek Hamsik, who pulled all the strings in jaw-dropping fashion to set up Higuain's opener, created chance after chance for his teammates to exploit, but they struggled to break down Atalanta's resolute defense. It was a story Napoli fans have seen too many times this season, and it's one that left them worried about something disastrous happening at the back.
Fortunately, those concerns were unnecessary. Kalidou Koulibaly absolutely rocked the house all day long, doing his "one man brick wall" impression in Napoli's defense. Between him and the best performance we've seen from Allan in several weeks, Pepe Reina was rarely troubled in goal, with Atalanta only getting off three shots all match long -- though a late game own-goal from Raul Albiol proved impossible to keep out, cementing a less-than-stellar day for the Spaniard.
That own goal wasn't the disaster it could have been, though, thanks to Higuain scoring his second goal of the match eight minutes earlier, this time set up by Jose Callejon -- though Hamsik had been influential in that buildup as well. That meant that Napoli got the three points they so desperately needed, giving them time to breathe ahead of their crucial match away to Torino next weekend.
Unfortunately, the gap over Roma is still just two points because the Romans apparently have an abundance of lucky horseshoes stashed somewhere -- they came back again to beat Genoa late, winning 3-2 despite trailing 2-1 in the 75th minute. Napoli must keep winning matches to hold onto second place, and the pressure is only going to grow between now and the end of the season.
On to the next.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon (El Kaddouri 80'), Higuain (Gabbiadini 84'), Insigne (Mertens 64')
Goals: Higuain (10', 77')
Atalanta: Sportiello; Massiello; Toloi, Djimsiti, Drame; Cigarini, de Roon (Conti 83'); D'Alessandro (Monachello 71'), Diamanti (Freuler 46'), Kurtic; Borriello
Goals: Albiol OG (85')