Napoli returned from their holiday break to play on the Epiphany (a Serie A tradition to have games on this day) with a clash at Stadio San Paolo vs. Sampdoria. With Roma losing to Juventus the day before, Napoli had the opportunity to close the gap from 5 to 2 points for 2nd place. Sampdoria came into this match have not losing a match since Sinisa Mihaljovic took over as manager. The match was a spirited one and Napoli showed their offensive threat constantly throughout the 90 minutes, however once again lacked finishing. Napoli won the match 2-0, with a brace of goals from on-form Dries Mertens.
- Dries Mertens: Clearly the Man of the Match. He provided the two goals that Napoli needed, however could of easily had 1 or even 2 more. Mertens first goal came from a great individual play by Higuain, who delivered a strong low cross that Mertens volleyed low corner pass the keeper. His second goal, as per one tweet I read (@Guardalinee) described the free-kick goal, it was not spectacular, however it was efficient. Mertens simply put the ball up and over the wall, then the ball skipped under the diving keeper’s arm.
- Gonzalo Higuain: Although, Higuain did not find the scoresheet in terms of goals, he did provide a superb assist on Mertens goal as described above. He did however miss a golden opportunity in the first-half to give Napoli the lead, when he volleyed a ball straight at the keeper from 3-4 yards out! His overall play keeps impressing me every time I watch him play. He comes deep for balls and has a great eye for setting up his teammates. Only issue that keeps bothering me is his arm wailing when players do not give him the ball.
- Rafael: This was Rafael first ever clean sheet for Napoli (for Napoli fans, let’s hope he goes on to beat Juventus Gigi Buffon record for minutes unbeaten by a goal – yes I know impossible!). He made a few key saves and was saved by his crossbar and posts on two different occasions. Rafael did show his confidence after he skinned Sampdoria player outside the box.
- Crowd at Stadio San Paolo: It was great to see. It was reported that over 60K fans attended the Napoli-Sampdoria match. The images are posted all over Twitter (a good source is @UltraManiatics).
- Honorable Mentions: Angelo Da Costa, Gokhan Inler
- Higuain Yellow Card: It is not the first time that Higuain gets a useless yellow card for complaining to the referee. I understand there is frustration and emotions when playing but what does it give him to complain enough to get that card. IT should stop and it should be addressed by Benitez.
- Lorenzo Insigne Scoring Drought: What more can be said. Insigne cannot find the back of the net during the Serie A campaign (still has time or if Pandev was not classless during the Inter match). The worst part is he puts himself in great opportunities with his skill and speed. Insigne should of had at least 1 goal vs. Sampdoria. If not mistaken, I believe, Insigne has the most shots at target without a goal in Serie A.
- Insigne Left-Foot: I do not like to pick on a player, especially Insigne, however his left-foot shot he took vs. Sampdoria on a great opportunity was poor. Furthermore, it is not the first time his left-foot has failed him. I understand he enjoys playing on the left side of the pitch so he can do his cut move to shoot with his right but it his time he improves his left-foot shooting. In my opinion, it will make him more of a threat going forward and he will find the back of the net more often.
- Sinisa Mihaljovic scarf/vest: I do not mind the team colour wearing scarf that Mihaljovic wore during the match, however to wear it with a matching vest or cardigan is overkill
In the end, Napoli close the gap on As Roma and stay 3 points ahead of Fiorentina on the all important Champions League spot. For their next game, Napoli travel to Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, home of Hellas Verona, where the team has only lost once (which was to the team they share the stadium with Chievo). This will be a difficult match for Napoli, as Hellas Verona has been probably one of the biggest surprised of the 2013-14 Serie A campaign.
***Special Note – Hoping for a speedy recovery for Giuseppe Rossi, all Italians want him in Brazil! ***