Napoli got their first win of the season in style, dominating AC Milan en route to a 4-2 win, with an Arkadiusz Milik brace starting the scoring, and a strong recovery overturning Milan’s fightback to the tune of two late goals — and inducing a meltdown from Milan that saw them have to players sent off. Dries Mertens was the star of the day, but Napoli as a whole looked much, much stronger than they did at any point a week ago.
Napoli got off to a flying start, dominating both in possession and attacking intent in the first half. The got forward at will, though a tight defensive line from Milan did slow them down somewhat.
Of course, Napoli fans know that very little can slow down Dries Mertens, Napoli’s Belgian force of nature. His trademark drive from the left to set up a shot from the edge of the box wound up with a shot that Gianluigi Donnarumma could only parry. The ball dropped easily to Arkadiusz Milik, and one blink later he had looped a short shot over Donnarumma for his first Napoli goal.
Milan were clearly shaken after that, starting making unforced errors by the bushel. It was only a matter of time before Napoli scored again, and after two more almost identical shots from Mertens to the one that set up their first goal, the partenopei earned a corner — one that Milik scored from with a beautiful header after slipping a Milan defender.
That got Napoli through to the second half with a 2-0 lead, but that lead quickly evaporated in the second. Milan scored in the 51st minute when M’Baye Niang beat Elseid Hysaj on the right flank and fired past at a tight angle, a shot that Pepe Reina should have saved but couldn’t — remember that particular detail. Maurizio Sarri was livid over the goal, his reaction getting him sent off. Napoli didn’t react much better, allowing Suso just too much space a few minutes later and scoring off a quality strike — one that Reina once more should have stopped but couldn’t.
This time, though, Napoli reacted much better, getting back into the dominant form they’d shown earlier in the game and utterly stunting anything else Milan tried going forward. Another Mertens shot from the edge of the box resulted in another parried rebound save from Donnarumma, and this time it was Jose Callejon who was there to clean up the mess, restoring Napoli’s lead — and starting a meltdown for the ages.
Moments later, Milan midfielder Juraj Kucka shoved down Mertens well off the ball — and right in front of the fourth official. Kucka was booked for the foul, and then booked again second later for arguing the call — an argument that included telling the referee what he could do to himself. Twice. Suffice it to say he earned his early shower.
Just before the end of regulation, it was M’Baye Niang, already skating on thin ice after repeated hard fouls, who saw red. After having been booked shortly after his goal, he committed a stupid foul, pushing Reina as he was running out with the ball to re-set play following a fizzled Milan attack. The referee saw it clear as day and, rightfully, showed the French winger a second yellow card, putting his team down to nine men.
All that was left at that was for the fat lady to sing — but instead of opera, she was singing Yakity Sax. In injury time, Milan defender Alessio Romagnoli tried to cut out a cross from Lorenzo Insigne bound for Jose Callejon, but got the ball caught awkwardly between his feet and redirected it at the back of the net instead of clearing it. He chased it, stumbled, slapped at the ball, fell face-first, and swatted the ball away, but only after it had crossed the line. Callejon followed up the swat by putting the ball into the back of the net, and the goal was initially awarded to him, and Romagnoli was shown yellow.
Sorting out what happened was bizarre — as it appeared, if the result wasn’t an own goal it should have been a red card for Romagnoli for stopping a goal scoring chance by handling the ball and a penalty for Napoli. If it wasn’t that, it was an own goal. There was no scenario in which Romagnoli should have been booked or Callejon awarded a goal — and in the end, it was ruled an own goal by the league, but Romagnoli’s booking still stood. Presumably for sheer idiocy rather than the handball.
In the end, it was an impressive performance for Napoli. Yes, that five minute spell of badness was, well, bad, but everything leading up to it was a vast improvement on anything we saw last week, and they recovered brilliantly to finish Milan off. The rossonero’s meltdown was almost as pleasing to watch as Napoli’s play, but the most pleasing thing of all was getting that much-needed win.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol (Vlad Chiriches 89’), Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Milik, Mertens (Insigne 78’)
Goals: Milik (18’, 33’), Callejon (74’), Romagnoli O.G. (90’+2)
AC Milan: Donnarumma; Abate (Calabria 80’), Gomez, Romagnoli, De Sciglio; Kucka (red 75’), Montolivo, Bonaventura; Suso (Lapadula 86’), Bacca (Jose Sosa 80’), Niang (red 87’)
Goals: Niang (51’), Suso (55’)