An historic Dries Mertens stunner put Napoli in front, but despite Alex Meret heroics, RB Salzburg’s Erling Haaland equalised from the spot.
Kostas Manolas failed a fitness test with bruised ribs, so as Faouzi Ghoulam, Mario Rui, Elseid Hysaj and Nikola Maksimovic were already out of action, Sebastiano Luperto made his Champions League debut and Giovanni Di Lorenzo moved over to left-back. Hirving Lozano was chosen upfront and Piotr Zielinski preferred to Lorenzo Insigne. The hosts had won their last 13 home games in a row, but the Partenopei’s last away victory in the Champions League was in 2016.
It took just two minutes to create the first big scoring opportunity, as Stankovic used his hand and ankle to keep out an excellent Dries Mertens volley.
Erling Haaland found the back of the net after eight minutes after Alex Meret parried Mwepu’s strike, but VAR confirmed he was offside along with two other teammates.
Instead, Napoli took the lead with a genuinely spectacular strike from Mertens. Not only did it allow him to match Diego Armando Maradona’s total of 115 goals in a Napoli jersey, but it was also a stunner, fired into the far top corner from the tightest of angles with ferocious power.
Haaland ran on to a through ball and Kalidou Koulibaly’s sliding challenge did enough to slow him down, allowing Alex Meret to save from point-blank range. Moments later, Haaland again got into the box and held off Di Lorenzo, but Meret somehow stuck up a hand to push it over the bar.
There was an odd moment when Mertens tried a lob from midfield and Cican Stankovic pulled a hamstring as he sprinted back to the open goal. The ‘keeper had to limp off and be replaced by Carlos Miguel Coronel.
Salzburg continued to lay siege to the makeshift Napoli defence, but Meret made a fingertip save on Patson Daka’s chest and volley.
Hee-Chan Hwang squirmed around Kevin Malcuit at the by-line and was brought down for a penalty, which Haaland converted by sending Meret the wrong way. It was the first goal Napoli had conceded in the Champions League this season.
Fabian Ruiz caught Salzburg in possession to drill wide and as the tempo dropped, Napoli took more control and restored their advantage.
Malcuit was given too much time and space to get down the right and pick his pass, finding Mertens unmarked to blast into the roof of the net from eight yards.
It was always going to be an entertaining match and let nobody down. A corner was not cleared effectively, the cross back in found Haaland for a precise header from eight yards and it was 2-2.
However, less than a minute later, Napoli were back in front. Mertens volleyed a ball across from the right for substitute Lorenzo Insigne, whose first touch was excellent and he saw the finish deflected off Ramalho to loop over Coronel.
RB Salzburg 2-3 Napoli
Mertens 17, 64 (N), Haaland pen 41, 72 (S), Insigne 73 (N)
RB Salzburg: Stankovic (Coronel 33); Kristensen, Ramalho, Wober, Ulmer; Daka (Ashimeru 68), Junuzovic, Mwepu (Koita 89), Minamino; Hwang, Haaland
Napoli: Meret; Malcuit, Koulibaly, Luperto, Di Lorenzo; Callejon (Elmas 80), Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Zielinski; Mertens (Llorente 76), Lozano (Insigne 65)
Ref: Turpin (FRA)
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