Napoli survived a couple of scares to conquer neighbours Benevento 2-0 thanks to a magical Dries Mertens lob and Marek Hamsik goal.
The Partenopei needed a victory to stay top after Juventus crushed Sassuolo 7-0 this afternoon and were still missing Arkadiusz Milik and Faouzi Ghoulam for this local derby with bottom of the table Benevento. Le Streghe have been revolutionised in the January transfer window, with Bacary Sagna in the stands, but ex-Tottenham midfielder Sandro wearing the captain’s armband on his first start. Former Sampdoria goalkeeper Christian Puggioni was also thrown in at the deep end.
Benevento had faced Napoli only three times and were flattened 6-0 at the San Paolo back in September. The other meetings were both in the 2004-05 Serie C1 campaign, the Partenopei winning 2-0 home and away.
The hosts came flying out of the blocks, Enrico Brignola volleying off target from a Marco D’Alessandro cross, while Guilherme also curled wide and Pepe Reina had to smother D’Alessandro’s angled drive.
When Napoli did finally come out of their shell on 14 minutes, it was with real style, as Lorenzo Insigne’s lob beat Puggioni only to bounce off the crossbar.
Marek Hamsik then horribly ballooned over when Insigne laid the assist on a silver platter for him, but Dries Mertens gave Napoli the lead with a delightful lob from an improbable angle. He might’ve been trying to cross it for Insigne at the back post after a twist and turn, but it was not dissimilar to goals the Belgian has scored before, most notably against Torino last season.
Mertens saw another attempt deflected into the air, which Puggioni fingertipped out from under the bar, but Benevento really should’ve equalised on 40 minutes. Brignola went on the counter to set up Djimsiti, who hit the side-netting when unmarked from 12 yards.
Puggioni pushed an Allan strike out from under the bar, but straight after the restart, Lorenzo Venuti’s heavy touch gifted the ball and Callejon rolled across for Hamsik to fire in from eight yards.
A dangerous Benevento corner skimmed the head of Andrea Costa at the back post and they were awarded a penalty for Kalidou Koulibaly taking out Costa from behind. However, with Guilherme waiting to take the spot-kick for a couple of minutes, the news came through via VAR that Sandro was offside in the build-up, so there was no penalty.
Puggioni came flying out to clear from Mertens sent clear through the middle, then Callejon’s follow-up was charged down.
Djimsiti was booked for a crunching challenge from behind on Mertens, treading on the back of his ankle, and the Belgian limped off the pitch.
There was still time for Gaetano Letizia and Piotr Zielinski to test the goalkeepers at the near post. Zielinski's through ball sent Callejon clear, but he opened up his foot too much and turned wide of the far post.
Deep into stoppages, Massimo Coda and Marko Rog forced tricky saves from distance.
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