Mission: accomplished. A 2-0 victory over Sassuolo puts Napoli within 3 points of Roma, who managed just a point from their game at Verona. Two incredible goals from Duván Zapata and Marek Hamšík mean the partenopei are dreaming once again of that all-important second spot.
About the most interesting thing to happen in the first half was that Sassuolo managed to lose two players before 25 minutes were out. After just 11 minutes, Luca Antei picked up a knee injury, and in the 22nd minute, former Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro had to come off as well -- but the San Paolo gave him a lovely round of applause, at least. The hosts looked the better side for the first half, but also managed to look a bit disconnected as well. It didn't help that Sassuolo were doing their best to thwart Napoli, disrupting their movement and keeping them from getting decent chances in.
It's safe to say Napoli felt they were missing the suspended Gonzalo Higuaín. One of the first chances fell to Zapata, who couldn't get a decent shot in and sent the ball wide. He also failed to read his teammates as well as Pipita might have, with the most egregious example coming around the half-hour mark. Napoli hit hard on the break, with José Callejón driving through the middle. Zapata cut in too far to receive Ziggy's pass, however, and the move came to nothing.
Of course, it always seems like Duván is able to pull out goals at just the point when fans are wishing the side had splurged for a real vice-Higuaín. But it's not often he's able to score mere fractions of a second after people are wishing ill will upon his head.
Today, though, that's exactly what happened. Zapata got on the end of a nearly-perfect ball from Hamšík, yet he somehow managed to trip himself up. Once he'd got centered, he found himself surrounded by six Sassuolo shirts.
Yet Duván powered through to let off a low, powerful shot, finally breaking the deadlock.
Not ten minutes later and Marekiaro had doubled the lead with a stunning, stunning goal. This time it was Duván setting it up, but the beauty was all Marek's. Sassuolo were foolish enough to give him space and Hamšík took advantage, bending the ball around Davide Biondini and into the far corner of the net, leaving Andrea Consigli completely stranded.
The captain's joy was felt all across the stadium, but moments later, the cheers turned to boos. Dries Mertens, on just five minutes before for Manolo Gabbiadini, was shown a straight red for clipping Francesco Magnanelli around the ankles. The San Paolo crowd -- like the majority of neutrals watching -- sure didn't believe the challenge merited a sending off.
Fortunately for Napoli, going down a man didn't hurt them in the end. It's another rare clean sheet for the team, but most importantly, it's Napoli earning three points in what was an absolute must-win match.
Napoli: Andujar; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Gargano, David Lopez; Gabbiadini (Mertens 66), Hamsik (De Guzman 82), Callejon (Mesto 89); Zapata
Goals: Zapata 61', Hamsik 70'
Sassuolo: Consigli; Antei (Biondini 11), Cannavaro (Bianco 23), Acerbi, Gazzola; Taider (Lazarevic 78), Magnanelli, Missiroli; Berardi, Zaza, Floro Flores