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Napoli vs. AC Milan: Final score 2-1, Mertens assists enough for win

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A hot start was enough to overturn a shaky middle spell of the match.

AC Milan v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

A rough and tumble game at the San Siro ended in a 2-1 win for Napoli over AC Milan, thanks in large part to a pair of absolutely brilliant assists from Dries Mertens in the opening stages of the game. The rest of the match didn’t go as well for the partenopei, but they did well enough to preserve their lead and come away with all three points — and in the end, that’s all that matters.

Napoli got off to an absolutely white-hot start, playing aggressively and getting tremendous dividends from it in the early minutes. Twice they suckered Milan into over-aggressive attacks of their own in the opening ten minutes, and twice they scored off those opportunities — once when Dries Mertens unleashed a stunningly gorgeous cross-field ball that found Lorenzo Insigne in stride for a neat and tidy finish. The other was again set up by Mertens, this time coming closer to the box before setting up Jose Callejon for a point-blank range finish.

It was a tremendous start to the match for Napoli, who were playing rampantly and in full control of the match early on. But thanks to referee Gianluca Rocchi’s willingness to let Milan play physically while strictly penalizing any of Napoli’s attempts to deal with that physicality started to even out the momentum in the match and then eventually swung it Milan’s way.

Now, Napoli’s struggles late in the first half and well into the second weren’t all Rocchi’s fault. While he certainly didn’t help, it also can’t be denied that Jorginho was extremely poor on the day and others, including Allan, Lorenzo Tonelli, and Raul Albiol, struggled badly at times. Those struggles combined with an inability to play physically give Milan too many opportunities to come at Napoli’s goal, and eventually one of those opportunities came good for Milan thanks to a huge mutual mistake by Jorginho and Tonelli, giving the ball to Juraj Kucka far too easily and then failing to mark him in any meaningful way.

That goal saw the halftime score stand at 2-1, and gave Milan the energy they needed to come out of the gate swinging in the second half. Napoli struggled to deal with the pressure effectively, but eventually started finding room on the counter, using their pace and trickery up top to create several chances of their own. Unfortunately those chances came to nothing, largely because Mertens was struggling after being on the receiving end of numerous crunching challenges from Gabriel Paletta that went unpunished throughout the match. Those challenges knocked the Belgian off his game, and Napoli’s attack struggled without that linking element up top.

Fortunately, Napoli’s defense managed to find their feet again, especially after Amadou Diawara came on for Jorginho at the hour mark. That was enough to keep Milan from scoring again — even with goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma coming up on a free kick in stoppage time and getting his header on goal — and enough to get all three points.

It wasn’t the win Napoli fans were hoping for, but it was a win all the same and will help Napoli in the standings. It was the kind of game that neutrals love and the fans involved loathe, but a win is a win, and now Napoli have a ten match unbeaten run in the league. That’s worth a lot, and hopefully Napoli can keep that run going for a good, long time.

On to the next.

Milan: Donnarumma; Abate, Paletta, Gomez, Calabria; Kucka, Sosa (Bertolacci 74’), Pasalic (Niang 86’); Suso, Bacca (Lapadula 73’), Bonaventura

Goal: Kucka (37’)

Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Tonelli, Strinic; Allan (Rog 85’), Jorginho (Diawara 61’), Hamsik (Zielinski 74’); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne

Goals: Insigne (6’), Callejon (9’)