Napoli confirmed their Scudetto credentials by fighting back from an early Lazio goal for a 4-1 victory, including a team move masterclass.
Maurizio Sarri certainly celebrated his 100th Serie A game on the Partenopei bench, as his record now stands at 71 wins, 18 draws and 11 defeats, scoring 228 goals and conceding 86.
This was first against third in Serie A, although the pressure was on after Juventus beat Fiorentina last night to temporarily go top. Dries Mertens recovered from an ankle injury, but Raul Albiol, Vlad Chiriches, Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik missed out, so Lorenzo Tonelli got his first appearance since January 2017. The Aquile were coming off two consecutive defeats and dropped Felipe Anderson as punishment for his poor attitude against Genoa, but it was a homecoming for Neapolitan Ciro Immobile.
Lazio have not beaten Napoli since a 4-2 result here in May 2015 – the game that decided Champions League access – followed by five losses and a draw in which they conceded 19 and scored three.
It took only a couple of minutes to break the deadlock, as Immobile’s cross from the right found Stefan de Vrij to stick out a foot between the centre-backs and glance it past Pepe Reina with his studs. Curiously, De Vrij had also opened the scoring when Napoli won 4-1 at the Stadio Olimpico earlier this season.
Thomas Strakosha rushed off his line to anticipate Jose Callejon, then Lorenzo Insigne curled over on a Jorginho chipped pass, but Milinkovic-Savic was in commanding form for Lazio, dominating the midfield.
Insigne controlled with the outside of his boot before a curling lob whistled just wide of the far top corner. Wallace ran a big risk when barging Mertens over in the box, but argued he just used his far superior strength in a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge.
Marco Parolo nodded an Adam Marusic cross over the bar and Insigne spotted Strakosha off his line, attempting an audacious long-range lob that landed on the roof of the net, only centimetres off the bar.
Milinkovic-Savic forced desperate defending in the six-yard box, but Napoli got their deserved equaliser with a smart piece of play. Jorginho took a free kick quickly, chipping it over the defence for Callejon to spring the offside trap, control and drill past Strakosha from nine yards.
Sarri was furious at Milinkovic-Savic hauling down Callejon in midfield and was sent off for dissent. The tension escalated, as Insigne and Lucas Leiva had to be separated going into the tunnel for half-time.
Piotr Zielinski replaced Marek Hamsik for the second half and within 60 seconds Insigne had pounced on a Wallace error to test Strakosha, then his curler shaved a coat of paint off the far post.
Stefan Radu needed a desperate double block on both Callejon and the follow-up from point-blank range by Insigne.
Napoli had Lazio on the ropes and took the lead thanks to a howler, as Callejon rolled across for Insigne at the back post, Strakosha seemed to have it covered, but Wallace came sliding in and accidentally put it into his own net.
Moments later, it was 3-1, as Mario Rui’s hopeful effort from distance took a deflection off teammate Zielinski to completely wrong-foot Strakosha at the near post. As the deflection seemed accidental, the Lega Serie A have attributed the goal to Mario Rui.
Zielinski definitely meant his long-range strike that Strakosha flew to palm away, but the fourth goal was the best team move you’ll see this season.
It started from winning back the ball in midfield and was all sublime one-touch football, with a back-heel flick, chipped pass over the top, culminating in a Zielinski slide-rule pass through the eye of a needle and the Mertens delicate dink over an on-rushing Strakosha into an empty net.
Napoli were suddenly operating on a higher level and Strakosha flew to parry a Zielinski strike, then passed it around with such ease that the crowd broke into spontaneous applause.
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