Napoli XI (4-3-3/4-4-1): Reina, Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Rui (red card ’77), Allan, Jorginho (Diawara ’56), Hamsik (Zielinski ’69), Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (Maggio ’78).
Sampdoria XI : Viviano, Bereszynsk, Ferrari, Strinic, Silvestre, Praet, Barreto (Verre ’71), Ramirez, Torreira, Quagliarella (Kownacki), Caprari.
Goals: 2′ Ramirez, 15′ Allan, Quagliarella 26′, Insigne ’33, Hamsik ’38
23rd December 2017 will live long in the hearts of Napoli fans since Marek Hamsik became the Partenopei’s leading goal scorer, overtaking Maradona’s 115 goal mark. It was fitting that he broke the record in this exhilarating encounter with some wonderful attacking play, signalling Marekiaro’s return to form.
The match began terribly: an unnecessary foul, led to a direct free kick taken by Gaston Ramirez. Reina, with the Naples sun shining directly into his eyes, failed to make a save despite the far distance and Samp were ahead.
Some nervy play and strange refereeing decisions hinted at a frustrating affair but chances from Callejon and Mertens added confidence to the azzurri who equalised through Allan. Sarri’s high press (often overlooked by both his praisers and detractors) was in operation as Mertens won the ball back, produced a wonderful pass for Callejon who shot straight at the keeper. Luckily the tenacious Allan was on hand to follow up and tap the ball home.
Koulibaly aside, Napoli’s defending was sloppy in the opening stages and on the 26th minute a penalty was conceded by the clumsy and off-the-pace Hysaj. Quagliarella converted it down the middle and noticeably didn’t celebrate against his former club. The steel of Napoli this season has been a crucial factor in the Scudetto push and they couldn’t be kept down. With Hamsik and Allan influential and the front three all having regular chances, Insigne levelled with a deft volley after Mertens capitalised on some poor ball control and fed Napoli’s favourite son through with an excellent assist.
Hamsik’s record breaking moment came after some breath-taking hold up work and dribbling in the penalty area from the stand-out Allan. Mertens again provided the assist, scampering on to Allan’s pass to leave Hamsik no other option but to break Maradona’s record from close range. The unified celebrations highlighted the unit that Sarri has created and Hamsik pointed both thumbs towards his name which will be sung forever by the Napoli fans.
The first half an hour of the second half was a much quieter affair with the most noticeable incidents being the ovations for the record breaker Hamsik coming off as well as the former Napoli boy, Quagliarella. Defensively Napoli improved aside from Hysaj who put in a very sub-par display.
Things livened up when Mario Rui saw red for two yellow cards in the 77th minute. His second was an awkward sliding challenge and, although he pointed out that he had only committed two infringements, unfortunately for him both were worthy of yellow cards. Sarri brought Maggio on for Insigne and switched to a 4-4-1 of sorts and Allan continued to cover the entire pitch, winning a free kick, taken by Mertens but well saved by Viviano.
Samp continued to press, winning several corners but Sarri’s tactical tweak worked well. Mertens missed a glorious opportunity to score a well earned goal at the death but Napoli hung to for a very satisfying and historic victory. Hamsik will rightly grab the headlines but there are some areas of concern that need addressing: with Ghoulam injured, Rui suspended and Hysaj putting one of the worst displays I’ve seen in a Napoli shirt for years, ADL needs to strengthen the full back area early on in the transfer market.
Reina – 5
Hysaj – 3
Albiol – 6
Koulibaly – 7
Rui – 4
Allan – 8
Jorginho – 6
Hamsik – 116
Callejon – 7
Mertens – 8
Insigne – 8
Diawara (’56 for Jorginho) – 6
Zielinski (’69 for Hamsik) – 6
Maggio (’78 for Insigne) – n/a
By Frank Sidekick Follow @FrankSidekick