It was a rough start to the season for Napoli, going down two goals in the first half against Pescara before a second half surge saw them level it through a brace from Dries Mertens. Napoli could have won if a penalty that was given wasn’t suddenly taken away, but in the end they couldn’t do enough on the pitch to get a third goal, and had to settle with opening their Serie A campaign with a 2-2 draw.
Napoli’s season got off to an ugly, ugly start in the opening minutes, after a horrid defensive breakdown between Mirko Valdifiori, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Pepe Reina allowed Valerio Verre to slip Ahmad Benali through with ease to score just eight short minutes into the game. That early setback had Napoli all out of sorts, and they struggled badly to get themselves back into gear.
Things went from bad to worse 35 minutes in when Koulibaly was out to lunch and Reina reacted far too late to a run from Gianluca Caprari, letting Pescara get a shocking 2-0 lead — and then things got even worse when a hard challenge left Marek Hamsik lying on the pitch in obvious pain. Napoli’s captain got up and soldiered on as best he could, but it was clear that he wasn’t at 100% from there on out.
It took a double-substitution early in the second half for Napoli to finally get rolling, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Lorenzo Insigne coming out in favor of Arkadiusz Milik and Dries Mertens. While saying that Gabbiadini performed badly is a bit harsh — he was thoroughly marked by multiple men all match long and had no room to work with — it has to be said that Insigne was absolutely poor, failing to ever really attack the ball or give Gabbiadini the support he needed to break the marking put on him.
Milik and Mertens, however, were much more effective. While Milik didn’t get much time on the ball, he used what movement was available to him to pull Pescara’s central defenders around almost at will to create room for his teammates to work with. Mertens took full advantage of that space to score two goals in three minutes to bring Napoli level, the first a sublime strike from the edge of the box, and the second to equalize the match off a tap-in created off a deflection off a defender moving to cover a run from Milik.
Napoli would have to pull a limping Hamsik off the pitch and replace him with the debuting Piotr Zielinski, who seemed to earn Napoli a penalty not long after coming on. Zielinski was trying to bring down a loose ball in the air in front of goal when he got caught with a high boot, and it was initially — and on replay, rightfully — given as a penalty. However, after referee Piero Giacomelli conferred with one of his assistants, the call was reversed, and Napoli lost their chance to win.
They’d have a couple more scoring chances — a thunderbolt from range off the foot of Milik was well saved, and a penalty appeal from Mertens was turned down -- but in the end, based on what happened on the pitch, a 2-2 draw was probably a fair result. That’s disappointing considering that Napoli should be much, much better than they were, but with so many players performing so poorly — looking at you, Valdifiori, Koulibaly, Reina, and Insigne — and Hamsik struggling after his knock, this seems about right.
Now Napoli need to improve — and be happy they’re not Inter Milan.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Valdifiori, Hamsik (Zielinski 71’); Callejon, Gabbiadini (Milik 53’), Insigne (Mertens 53’)
Goals: Mertens (60’, 63’)
Pescara: Bizzarri; Zampano, Coda (Zuparic 71’), Gyomber, Biraghi; Memushaj (Manaj 64’), Brugman (Crescenzi 86’), Cristante; Verre, Benali; Caprari
Goals: Benali (8’), Caprari (35’)