In the end it was a comfortable win for the Partenopei at the San Paolo on Sunday night despite being without a number of key players. Marek Hamsik, Dries Mertens, and Raul Albiol were all unavailable due to lingering injuries while Piotr Zielinski was ruled out with the flu. This gave the opportunity for Carlo Ancelotti to give rare starts to Amadou Diawara and Adam Ounas.
Arkadiusz Milik opened the scoring in the 14th minute when he was able to get on the end of a Lorenzo Insigne outside-of-the-boot cross. The Sassuolo keeper was able to get a hand to deflect the cross but ended up guiding it right into Milik’s stomach and into the goal. Locatelli tied things up for Sassuolo in the 34th minute with a close range strike beating David Ospina. However VAR came to the rescue for the hosts as replays showed that Locatelli had used his arm to control the ball earlier in the build-up and the goal was overturned. However, this made for a nervy few minutes awaiting the decision as earlier today, Fiorentina saw their penalty appeals denied despite the ball clearly striking the hand of a Torino player. Fabian Ruiz secured the victory for Napoli in the 73rd minute as he first-timed a Milik pass into the bottom corner of the net.
The return of Kalidou Koulibaly was much anticipated (his first match since the controversial loss against Inter) and his every move seemed to be met with massive applause and support from the Partenopei faithful. Another player who impressed was Ounas who, despite being unable to get on the scoresheet, still made quite an impression with a number of marauding runs. This match also saw the senior debut of 18 year-old youth team player Gianluca Gaetano who came on as stoppage time sub.
Napoli will face Milan in the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia at the end of the month (I would argue easier opponents than Sampdoria). It is still unknown whether the team will remain unchanged at the end of the month as the future for a number of Napoli players remains up in the air. Marko Rog is likely to join Sevilla on loan while the rumored departures of Allan and Hysaj to PSG and Chelsea respectively are less concrete. It also remains to be seen which competition Ancelotti will prioritize with both the Coppa Italia and Europa League beginning to heat up while Napoli is also nine points adrift of Juventus in the league.