Napoli started Serie A with a bang, conquering Verona 3-1 at the Bentegodi with an inspirational Lorenzo Insigne, but Elseid Hysaj saw red.
Hellas are back in Serie A after one year in the wilderness and immediately played a grudge match with old rivals Napoli, who were fresh from a 2-0 Champions League play-off victory over Nice. With the second leg on Tuesday, Maurizio Sarri made changes, introducing Vlad Chiriches, Piotr Zielinski, Amadou Diawara and above all Arkadiusz Milik. Verona Coach Fabio Pecchia – a former Napoli player and assistant manager under Rafa Benitez – had to do without Franco Zuculini, Riccardo Brosco and Matteo Bianchetti, but surprisingly dropped Giampaolo Pazzini for False 9 Daniel Bessa.
Verona have now lost nine of the last 10 meetings in all competition with Napoli, interrupted only by a 2-0 Serie A home win in March 2015.
Within three minutes, Nicolas had already beaten away a Lorenzo Insigne effort, but the extremely windy conditions made it difficult to cross accurately.
Insigne fired one off target and saw another curler plucked out of the air, while Bessa blasted wide after a good combination with Romulo down the right.
Jose Callejon didn’t get enough power behind the finish after Marek Hamsik won back possession and Insigne’s volley was deflected wide.
Napoli’s domination was finally made to count in unusual fashion, as Nicolas flapped aimlessly at a corner and it bounced off Samuel Souprayen’s shinpad into the net from close range.
Verona were caught out for the second goal too, as a free kick turned into an Insigne counter with his magnificent remote-controlled pass for Milik to prod home.
Alessio Cerci sprung the offside trap and his fierce strike was fingertipped over the bar, but at the other end Piotr Zielinski drilled over after another wonderful team move.
In the second half, Cerci moved to the False 9 role and Vlad Chiriches needed a well-timed defensive header to prevent Cerci nodding in.
Pepe Reina got down quickly for a one-handed save on Daniele Verde’s half-volley from a tight angle, but Milik nodded over after Nicolas again flapped at a corner and fired straight at the goalkeeper following a Marcel Buchel error.
The third goal was somewhat chaotic. Insigne and substitute Dries Mertens combined twice to tear open the Verona defence and, as Nicolas clattered into the Belgian, Faouzi Ghoulam blasted in the rebound. Remarkably, it was the full-back’s first goal in a Napoli jersey since arriving in January 2014 and this was his 100th appearance.
Alex Ferrari performed a goal-line clearance on Mertens and Nicolas palmed an Insigne strike over the bar. Giampaolo Pazzini’s back-heel flick was just wide from close range, but he’d wandered offside anyway.
Verona did get one back after a truly daft Elseid Hysaj rugby tackle on Bessa, leading to an inevitable penalty and straight red card. Pazzini converted the spot-kick by rolling his finish under Reina.
Moments later it was almost 2-3, as Chiriches completely mistimed his interception and Reina had to parry from Pazzini at the near post. On the resulting corner, and with Chiriches off after hurting his shoulder, Martin Caceres nodded inches wide.
Sent off: Hysaj 82 (N)