Maurizio Sarri made seven changes from the Coppa Italia game midweek, bringing back Pepe Reina, Elseid Hysaj, Jorginho, Marek Hamsik, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens and last week’ss match winner Lorenzo Tonelli. The tough old fashioned bearded center back would break the deadlock again in today’s game, scoring a fine unmarked header at the start of the second half to get Napoli rolling in what ended as a 3-1 victory for the partenopei.
A frozen, cut up pitch that more resembled a potato field than one of the country’s top football team’s playing surfaces made for some uncomfortable moments for the Azzurri. A lot of sloppy passes and some high tempo pressure from the opposition caused Napoli all sorts of problems and made for a very poor first half of football. A shot by Insigne that was deflected wide and a chance for Hamsik that he might have done a bit better with were the only sniffs of fine perfume that the home side got.
In that first half, the Delfini followed Massimo Oddo’s game plan and tactics perfectly, press Napoli high up the pitch, don’t let them have any time to settle on the ball or build up from the back and play in an overtly aggressive manner that should and indeed did put Sarri’s men off their rhythm . The boys from Abruzzo play was summed up by two actions, Alberto Gilardino’s first sprint since 2006 that saw him chasing back and making a dangerous sliding tackle that should maybe have at least warranted a talking too from the ref and Bryan Cristante’s elbow to the face of Raul Albiol that definitely deserved a yellow card.
Referee Claudio Gavillucci allowed the tone of the game to be set by turning a blind eye to these tackles and as per usual I Ciucciarelli didn’t respond too well to them, by shying away from any physical duels and retreating into their shell. It took until the 40th minute for the game to come to life with the first yellow card for Andrea Coda — and three minutes later Tonelli picked up one of his own while making sure that Caprari would not get into the box and have a free shot at goal. Benali was booked seconds later and then had a shot that blazed over the bar to end the first half.
A goal finally comes after the restart from a Jorginho free kick that finds Tonelli and he heads it into the net. Now Napoli have woken up, straight from tip off they win the ball back and Jose Callejon finds himself one on one with the keeper, instead of settling himself and rounding Bizzarri to score into an empty net he panics and shoots against his legs. Luckily for him the ball is recovered and Zielinsky picks out Hamsik who scores a well placed side footed shot to save his blushes.
The Pescara bus was finally refueled and pulled out of the garage as they took it out of park to chase a goal, and for a time it was all one way traffic with Gli Azzurri stringing some nice passing moves together. Bizzarri tipped a Jorginho pile driver over the bar, then did the same with an Insigne shot. Callejon went close again and Mertens hit the crossbar. With more space opening up for Mertens he began to get more involved in the game and eventually got his goal with some help from Allan who sent in the cross for him, low and hard for him to finish.
At that point, the game was effectively over and the subs came on, but concentration levels dropped and of course a consolation goal was given up. With Maggio coming on for Strinic and Hysaj moving across to the left the shape changed, and as the match moved into injury time, a rare Pescara counter attack saw some players caught out of position. Mitrita ran unchecked into the box and Hysaj came across to tackle, with Mitrita going down for what was by all appearances a very soft penalty. Mitrita seemed to make a meal out of it, but either way Hysaj was caught napping and should have known that the forward would go down with the slightest of touches. Benali stepped up and hit it down the middle, ruining Napoli’s clean sheet and giving Pescara some measure of consolation after shipping three goals.
That’s three games now in a row that Napoli have won without playing at their best and taking a while to get going. Perhaps we can just blame the pitch, the cold, the African Cup of Nations for depriving Napoli of Koulibaly and Ghoulam, or perhaps even blame the alignment of the stars. But as long as Napoli are winning, all that matters in the end is the result.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Tonelli, Abiol, Strinic (Maggio 86’); Zeilinsi (Allan 65’), Jorginho, Hamsi; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (Giaccherini 80’)
Goals: Tonelli (47’), Hamsi (49’) Mertens (85’)
Pescara: Bizzari; Crescenzi, Coda, Zuparic; Verre (Mitrita 70’), Cristante, Bruno (Fornasier 64’), Memushaj, Benali; Caprari, Gilardino (Cerri 72’)
Goal: Caprari (94’ rig)