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Napoli keep the dream alive with 3-0 Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk

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A brutal first half gave way to a triumphant second as Napoli kept their Champions League hopes alive.

SSC Napoli v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Napoli’s hopes of advancing to the Champions League knockout stages are still thin and they need a lot of help to get there, but they got what they needed on Tuesday in the form of a 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk thanks to an absolutely dominant second half performance.

The first half of the match was, in a word, forgettable. Napoli played very poorly, creating few attacking chances and none of any particular note — more on that in a minute — and seeing both center backs require sideline treatment after taking heavy knocks. Going into the half, Shakhtar had been the better side, and Napoli fans were rightfully less than enthused with their team’s performance.

The second half, though, was a completely different, and much more glorious story.

Napoli started a bit slow, but you could see that there was a different feeling and tempo in the team compared to the first half. They were more aggressive, and much more proactive in their play, something that threw Shakhtar for a loop and seemed to catch them unawares.

That unbalance helped lead directly to Lorenzo Insigne’s spectacular opening goal a little over ten minutes into the second half, assisted by Marek Hamsik but mostly created through his own sheer will and determination:

It took Napoli awhile to find a second goal, but there was never any doubt that it would come. Napoli were utterly dominant after taking their lead, hardly even giving Shakhtar a breath in the second half. Eventually, they broke down badly — Piotr Zielinski and Dries Mertens scored easy goals two minutes apart from each other late in the match to blow the game wide open.

In fact, the match was so dominant that Napoli’s xG (Expected Goals) was hilariously high for the match:

For reference, many times when teams score even four or five goals, they only wind up with 1.5 or so xG — a statistic that grades the likelihood that a given shot taken can turn into a goal — because most of their actual goals scored tend to come from lower-percentage chances. The number is in even more stark contrast, with Michael Caley further adding that of Napoli’s 2.0 xG score, only 0.1 of that came from their dismal first-half performance, where most of Shakhtar’s total came from.

In simpler terms, Napoli didn’t just dominate the second half, they may as well have been the only team on the pitch. It was a great showing for the partenopei after an abysmal start to the game, and it was great to see them rebound with so much on the line.

Napoli still need help to reach the Champions League knockout rounds, though — not only must they beat Feyenoord again, they need Manchester City to beat Shakhtar in order to advance. But Napoli took care of step one in beating Shakhtar on Tuesday, and that’s all they can ask for right now.

On to the next.

Napoli: Pepe Reina; Christian Maggio, Raul Albiol, Vlad Chiriches, Elseid Hysaj; Piotr Zielinski (Mario Rui 86’), Amadou Diawara, Marek Hamsik (Marko Rog 65’); Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne (Allan 65’)

Goals: Insigne (56’), Zielinski (81’), Mertens (83’)

Shakhtar Donetsk: Andiry Pyatov; Bogdan Butko, Ivan Ordets, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Ismaily; Fred, Taras Stepanenko (Alan Patrick 70’); Marlos (Dentinho 79’), Taison, Bernard; Facundo Ferreyra

Goals: None