It took until getting into the second half, but Napoli eventually managed to win their match against Spezia with plenty of control, with only a deflected goal late in the first half marring their overall performance en route to a 3-1 win that featured goals from three reserves and two delightful assists from Lorenzo Insigne.
The match got off to a flying start, with Napoli taking full advantage of their edge in speed as Spezia tried to start things wide-open. The Serie B side started too wide open as it turned out, giving Napoli several easy chances to counter in the opening minutes, ending in Lorenzo Insigne slipping in Piotr Zielinski with a clever ball that set the Polish midfielder up with an easy finish to put Napoli up 1-0 just over two minutes into the game.
After that, though, Napoli slowed things down a bit, preferring to try to avoid working their reserves too hard and let them ease into things a bit. That gave Spezia chances to start steadily probing at their defense, chances that eventually came good, albeit thanks to a huge deflection on a shot from Antonio Piccolo that caromed off Raul Albiol and then past Rafael Cabral. Often a hotbed of criticism in the past, Rafael had actually made the correct initial read on the shot, but the extent of the deflection going back across himself left him utterly helpless.
That 1-1 scoreline would last into the second half, with the Napoli defense continuing to look shaky and Spezia slowly growing in confidence — but the lower-league team got too confident and let Napoli’s highly effective counter-attack back into the game. Ten minutes into the half it was again Insigne playing provider, lobbing a perfectly weighted ball into the box for Emanuele Giaccherini, who volleyed it in with a lob of his own that tucked under the bar to restore Napoli’s lead. Two minutes later, another counter broke Spezia for good, with Marko Rog going on an impressive run, showing strength and skill that included an audacious flick over a defender before setting up a ball for Manolo Gabbiadini to chest home.
In the end, it was a match of mixed results for Napoli. The result is obviously a good one, but the defensive woes won’t impress fans. Nikola Maksimovic was decently solid, at least, but there were major red flags in Raul Albiol’s performance, as well as continued shakiness from Ivan Strinic and Christian Maggio.
Midfield, though, was a strength, with Marko Rog impressing in his first Napoli start, and Piotr Zielinski looking just as good as he did earlier in the season. We even got to see Leonardo Pavoletti make his debut as a late substitute — though the less said about his first shot, the better.
Hopefully as some of these players earn more minutes in Serie A and Champions League play, they can use this game as a launching pad for quality performances in crucial moments. Playing time is the best way to improve as a player, especially for younger players, and it was good to see so many of Napoli’s younger talent take advantage of the opportunity they had in this match.
Happy birthday Maurizio Sarri. On to the next.
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Maksimovic, Strinic (Hysaj 78’); Zielinski, Diawara, Rog; Giaccherini, Gabbiadini (Pavoletti 81’), Insigne (Callejon 61’)
Goals: Zielinski (3’), Giaccherini (55’), Gabbiadini (57’)
Spezia: Chichizola; N Valentini, Terzi, Ceccaroni (Pulzetti 66’); De Col, Maggiore, Deiola, Migliore; Piccolo (Granoche 66’); Baez (Mastinu 73’), Piu
Goal: Piccolo (35’)