Napoli affirmed themselves as the Winter Champions of Serie A, ending the first half of the campaign atop the table after earning a narrow 1-0 win over Crotone. Marek Hamsik continued his brilliant run of form by scoring in the 17th minute of the match, but otherwise this was not Napoli’s best showing of the season despite the positive result.
The match started off brightly for Napoli, putting tons of pressure on Crotone’s defense, with their struggling hosts getting bailed out by fortunate blocks and a couple of miscued finishes from Napoli attackers early in the match. But Napoli’s new all-time record goalscorer wasn’t going to let his chances go wasting, and Marek Hamsik scored with aplomb to put his team up 1-0.
GOOOOOOAAAAAL #Hamsik adds to his already historic run, making this his 117th goal in a @en_sscnapoli uniform. #CrotoneNapoli pic.twitter.com/SAkMk05YxU— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) December 29, 2017
But after going up, Napoli started making mistakes. They were getting lots of pressure on Crotone, sure, but they started turning the ball over in the final third instead of creating scoring chances, and the chances they were getting were getting wasted by misconnections between players leading to sub-standard finishes.
That sloppiness from Napoli let Crotone come out in the second half with a bit more energy, with Napoli having to call on Pepe Reina several times to keep the relegation-threatened side from equalizing. Napoli would start to assert their control of the match again, but continued sloppiness in midfield would keep allowing Crotone to try poking around for an equalizer, though their own lack of sharpness cost them several prime scoring chances.
Napoli’s substitutions definitely helped inject some needed energy into the side — Piotr Zielinski, Amadou Diawara, and Marko Rog all had decidedly better impacts than the tiring starters they replaced had been having shortly before being pulled out — and they forced Crotone goalkeeper Alex Cordaz to have a strong performance in goal to keep their lead at just one goal. But even when Napoli were piling on shots late in the match, there was this over-arching feeling that Napoli were playing nowhere near their best, as was exemplified by the ease in which Crotone got up on counter-attacks at times.
In fact, Crotone were calling for a penalty after one such counter, but the referee rightfully declared the supposed foul in the waning seconds of stoppage time a dive, allowing Napoli to preserve their 1-0 victory and officially crowning them as the winter champions of Serie A.
Despite the win, though, this wasn’t the best performance for the partenopei to sign off on 2017 with. They’ll need to be better than this in the second half of the season, though they do have a few key players like Hamsik coming around after long spells of poor form. Now they just need to get Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and a couple others turned around from their own recent lulls in form so they can assert themselves as the dominant team in Serie A. They can win the league this year — now they need to finish the job.