Napoli found it perhaps tougher than expected, but pushed past Sassuolo 3-1 – including Jose Callejon from a corner – to stay as sole leaders.
The Partenopei needed a victory to ensure they stayed clear at the top of the table, having dropped points only once this season, so Maurizio Sarri again kept squad rotation to a bare minimum. This wasn’t an option for struggling Sassuolo Coach – and former Napoli striker – Cristian Bucchi, who missed Domenico Berardi, Alfred Duncan, Edoardo Goldaniga, Timo Letschert, Claud Adjapong and Cristian Dell’Orco. They gave 20-year-old Francesco Cassata his first start after a red card three minutes into his Serie A debut.
Paolo Cannavaro was given a very warm homecoming with a banner reading: ‘The years go by, but you are always our captain.’
Last season, the Neroverdi held Napoli to draws both home and away, while Sarri lost his debut at the Mapei Stadium in August 2015.
Allan brought down Antonino Ragusa on the outside edge of the penalty area and Sassuolo almost scored from the resulting free kick, which Stefano Sensi fired directly on to the crossbar.
Sensi threatened again from a corner, forcing Pepe Reina to fingertip it over the bar, but at the other end only a desperate reaction save from Andrea Consigli denied Marek Hamsik from point-blank range.
The deadlock was broken by the hosts, as Sensi was caught in possession on the edge of his own area and Allan pounced to take it off his feet and fire in.
Faouzi Ghoulam thought he’d made it 2-0, but his volley smacked against the base of the upright, and the Partenopei dominated possession.
However, Sassuolo drew level when Matteo Politano got away from Vlad Chiriches down the right and his cross found Diego Falcinelli for a towering header. Reina was left rooted to the spot.
On the stroke of half-time, Napoli got back in front with a bizarre goal, as Jose Callejon curled the corner directly towards the near post and it seemed to ricochet in off ‘keeper Consigli. The Lega Serie A eventually awarded the goal to Callejon.
After the restart, Hamsik stung Consigli’s gloves at the near post, then Insigne just failed to get on the end of a cross from the right.
The third goal was somewhat chaotic too, as Raul Albiol knocked down a Callejon cross and Mertens tapped in with his thigh from point-blank range. It was a good way to celebrate his 200th appearance in a Napoli jersey.
Sassuolo had a chance to reduce the deficit again, but Mazzitelli fired over on a poorly-cleared corner. Insigne’s free kick was deflected past the near top corner and there was controversy when the referee awarded a Sassuolo penalty, but news came through via VAR that the Chiriches foul on Falcinelli was just outside the area.
On the resulting free kick, Cassata’s header hit the upright on a Politano cross, as Sassuolo continued to pour forward. Sensi drilled wide, as did Insigne, while Piotr Zielinski was unlucky to see his shot bounce off the inside of the post, roll all the way along the line and hit the other upright.