Napoli continued their remarkable start to 2015 by beating Udinese 3-1, albeit with Cyril Thereau scoring for both teams.
The Partenopei had won all but one of their Serie A games in 2015 and knocked Inter out of the Coppa Italia midweek. Now within four points of second-placed Roma, they had Kalidou Koulibaly suspended, but started Manolo Gabbiadini and Dries Mertens together. Udinese only lost a Coppa tie here on penalties last month after a 2-2 draw, but Panagiotis Kone and Antonio Di Natale were banned with Alexandre Geijo, Giampiero Pinzi, Emmanuel Badu, Maurizio Domizzi and Luca Evangelista out.
Napoli took the lead with a fine solo effort from Dries Mertens. He surged forward from midfield, combined with Gonzalo Higuain and was lucky with the ricochet before smashing his angled drive across Orestis Karnezis.
Gabbiadini got a great second goal, running on to Marek Hamsik’s inspired through ball and out-pacing the centre-backs. It was his second Napoli goal, the ninth of the season overall for the ex-Sampdoria star.
Udinese thought they had got back into it with an absolutely stunning Allan strike, but Rafael flew to fingertip it on to the crossbar.
Rafael saved one goal, but gave away another soon after, as he was caught in No Man’s Land on an Allan ball over the top from midfield, allowing Cyril Thereau to flick into an empty net.
Udinese very nearly equalised, as a Giovanni Pasquale cross only skimmed the head of Bruno Fernandes and carried on for Silvan Widmer to volley over at the far post.
Thereau scored for one side and evened things out, as he accidentally turned a Mertens set play into his own net.
That own goal sucked the confidence out of the Friulani and Napoli took full control, Jonathan de Guzman forcing a save out of Karnezis and skimming the upright. There was still time for Stipe Perica to make his Udinese debut, having arrived on loan from Chelsea.
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