It was a dreadful start for Napoli, but a strong second-half showing saw them overcome Atalanta for a 3-1 win on the strength of goals from Piotr Zielinski, Dries Mertens, and Marko Rog to continue their perfect start to the season.
Despite the eventual win, the first half was the worst Napoli has looked yet this season. They allowed Atalanta to threaten on the counter attack far too often, were bossed around too easily in midfield, and Pepe Reina was conspicuous in his absence from his typical hyper-organization of his defense, staying uncharacteristically quiet.
That trio of factors lead to a poor start from Napoli and opened the door for Atalanta to take advantage, and they did exactly that. A corner kick was poorly dealt with, giving Atalanta a chance at a second one in rapid succession. Some VAR shenanigans — apparently confirming a lack of a Napoli handball — let Atalanta have lots of time to adjust their approach while Napoli milled around aimlessly, and it was Bryan Cristante rising up to head home the ball past Reina.
Napoli had no effective reply to that setback in the first half, and even with a bit of an attacking surge at the end of the first half they looked incapable of really turning things around. Fortunately, Napoli’s actual players replaced their stunt doubles at halftime, because they came out swinging hard and looked like the same dominant force from their first three matches this season.
It started with Piotr Zielinski, who came up to collect a poor attempt at a clearance from Atalanta on a Napoli corner, chested the ball down coolly, and ripped off a rocket of a shot to level the scoreline just a few minutes before the hour mark. Five minutes later, it was Dries Mertens’ turn, getting behind the defense and volleying home a headed lob pass from Lorenzo Insigne to give Napoli a lead they would not relinquish.
Perhaps the most heartening story of the match started in the 75th minute, when Marko Rog stepped onto the pitch for Zielinski. Rog had looked good coming off the bench in Napoli’s previous matches this season, but he was at another level in this match, flying around the pitch and making a huge impact, both attacking in the final third and helping disrupt Atalanta’s attempts at finding an equalizer. So it was little surprise when, on a late counter attack, it was Rog making the late run to finish off the move and give Napoli a 3-1 lead with his first Serie A goal and his first goal for Napoli.
The second half was a phenomenal showing from Napoli, showing grinta and quality galore to overcome a poor start to take down a team that’s been a bogeyman to them in recent years. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, because Napoli are going to need this toughness all season long.
On to the next.
Napoli: Reina; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski (Rog 75’), Jorginho (Diawara 66’), Hamsik (Allan 58’); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Goals: Zielinski (56’), Mertens (61’), Rog (87’)
Atalanta: Berisha; Toloi, Palomino, Masiello; Hateboer (Cornelius 80’), Freuler, Cristante (Kurtic 63’), Gosens; Ilicic; Petagna (de Roon 46’), Gomez
Goals: Cristante (15’)