Napoli got their much-needed road win, riding a dominant first half to cover up a shaky second in what ended as a 2-1 victory over Torino. Gonzalo Higuain scored his 33rd league goal of the season, and a strong performance from Allan helped carry the day as Napoli got the vital win and took a huge step towards finishing second.
The start of the match was a bit rough, with Torino pushing forward hard and Albiol forced to eat a yellow card with a last-ditch challenge to stop them from scoring in just the third minute. That yellow means he won't be available in the last match of the season, but it kept Napoli from conceding early again.
Just a few minutes later, Napoli were again on their heels as Andrea Belotti cut through the defense like butter to lash the ball past Pepe Reina -- but fortunately he had mis-timed his run and was rightfully called offside. Seconds later, it was Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain cutting Torino to ribbons as Hamsik set up Pipita gorgeously for his 33rd league goal of the season, putting him just two goals behind Gunnar Nordahl's single-season record of 35 goals.
Napoli ran rampant again for a spell, getting forward freely and easily on the counter, playing some gorgeous, quick-paced football along the way. That helped to set up their second goal, off another devastating run and pass from Hamsik, this time to set up a Jose Callejon tap-in from straight in front of goal. That quality and domination extended for most of the first half, though they couldn't find a way to get a third goal despite several more good chances to score.
The second half -- well, that was a very different story.
Right away, something was off. Napoli were much less sharp in possession, much less aggressive going forward. It was a performance more characteristic of their recent road struggles than the more confident and assured side we saw in the first half, and suddenly that 2-0 scoreline looked much narrower than it had earlier on.
Their lead didn't just look smaller about 20 minutes into the half -- it got smaller too. A series of agonizing mistakes at the back gave Bruno Peres the chance to lob the ball over Pepe Reina, who had come out into no-man's land as play progressed. Kalidou Koulibaly tried to get back to clear it off the line, but he got there just a second too late -- and crashed through the back of the net for his trouble, actually tearing the netting out of the frame in the process.
That sparked a real turn in the run of play, with Torino and especially Naples-born striker Ciro Immobile looking incredibly dangerous down the stretch of the match. Napoli had to scratch and claw their way to a defensive stand to keep Torino at bay -- a stand that Allan was instrumental in. After being a key part in driving Napoli's counter-attack forward early in the match, Allan's work at the back is what let them hold on and win, screening a shaky defense with great skill and effort. He also put his body on the line repeatedly, breaking up play and drawing key fouls to give Napoli breathing room, including the foul that saw Giuseppi Vives sent off in stoppage time.
In the end, the performance wasn't a sexy one, or even a particularly good one outside of the opening spell and a couple of individual players like Allan. But what counts in the end is the three points added to the board, and the fact that as long as Napoli win next week -- and against an utterly listless Frosinone side at the San Paolo, that seems very likely -- they will finish second. That's the job done as far as anyone needs to be concerned.
On to the next.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik (Lopez 81'); Callejon (El Kaddouri 83'), Higuain, Insigne (Mertens 73')
Goals: Higuain (12'), Callejon (20')
Torino: Padelli; Bovo, Jansson, Silva; Zappacosta (Molinaro 73'), Acquah (Baselli 52'), Vives, Benassi, Peres; Belotti, Martinez (Immobile 78')
Goal: Peres (66')