Dries Mertens came off the bench and completed a great comeback, albeit amid controversy, as Napoli clawed a 2-2 at Pescara.
The Partenopei had to begin life after Gonzalo Higuain, so moved Manolo Gabbiadini to the centre of their trident, while Mirko Valdifiori replaced suspended Jorginho. Emanuele Giaccherini, Omar El Kaddouri and Lorenzo Tonelli were injured. Pescara were back in the top flight after winning promotion via the play-offs and used Gianluca Caprari as a False 9.
Marek Hamsik’s strike whistled just wide in the opening minute, but the Napoli defence was caught napping by Ahmed Benali, who burst through the middle to score with a delicate finish.
Moments later it was almost 2-0, Cristiano Biraghi forcing Pepe Reina to parry with his feet at the near post, while Jose Callejon and Valdifiori skimmed the woodwork from distance.
Raul Albiol got a decisive block on Valerio Verre in the box and Napoli tried to resolve the situation with individual moves, but Pescara showed how well they work as a team.
The second goal was splendid, as Francesco Zampano’s cut-back from the right was let through by a Benali dummy for Caprari to sneak in undisturbed and fire under the bar from eight yards.
Just before half-time, Valdifiori’s volley was charged down and from the corner Raul Albiol saw his header skim the upright with Albano Bizzarri beaten.
Sarri made a double change, throwing on Dries Mertens and new buy Arkadiusz Milik, which paid off immediately. Napoli were piling on the pressure and Mertens curled one of his trademark curlers low into the far bottom corner. He turned to glare at Sarri on the bench.
Moments later, Andrea Coda failed to cut out a cross from the right and Mertens was on hand again to tap in, completing the comeback in the space of three minutes.
Mertens continued to wreak havoc on the Pescara defence and there was controversy when the referee awarded a penalty as Zuparic’s high foot clipped Piotr Zielinski on the head, but after consultation with the goal-line officials, he changed his mind. Replays suggest this is because there was an Albiol foul on the goalkeeper before the contact.
Milik forced a couple of saves, including one that Mertens tried to follow-up, but Pescara clung on.
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