Napoli went into the Stadio Artemio Franchi against Fiorentina in a battle for a Champions League position and to keep pace with the, as-yet perfect, Roma. Napoli came away with a 2-1 victory with the goals coming from Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens. Both goals featured great set-ups and even better finishes. To say Napoli fully deserved the three points however, would be a lie. Fiorentina had most of the possession (over 60%), forced the pace of the match and had more shots at goal. What Napoli did was show off their exceptional offensive quality and clinical finishing. Unfortunately, bad refereeing was at the forefront at the end of the match. Throughout the entire match, cards and fouls where handed out like Halloween candy (both teams combined for 11 Yellow Cards, 2 Reds; in total 34 fouls).
- Dries Mertens: He is playing outstanding at present. His goal displayed his speed, skill and great finishing with his left foot. Mertens decided to score his first goal in Serie A with Napoli, which was a game-winner, at precisely the right time. The build up play that lead to the goal showed Napoli’s skill with Gonzalo Higuain and Mertens involved in a great 1-2 passing move. Mertens’ play of late has made him a guaranteed starter (with the exception when rest is needed, such as this Saturday vs. Catania).
- Gonzalo Higuain: He is paid to score goals. However, this match he played the role of a playmaker (it was Halloween week). His first assist was a wonderful delivery to Jose Callejon, who smashed the ball on the bounce into the back of the net to open the scoring. As mentioned above, Higuain also got another assist for Mertens eventual game-winning goal. Higuain did not complete the game as he seems to still be finding his form and fitness but the signs are encouraging for when he is fully fit.
- Giuseppe Rossi: To see Rossi scoring his Serie A leading 9th goal of season from the penalty spot (too bad it was at the expense of Napoli), is good for Fiorentina and Serie A but also great for him personally. He is coming off the back of two major knee surgeries and his play is inspirational. As an Italian national team fan, this is great news for Italy.
- Honorable Mentions: Jose Callejon, Valon Behrami
- Goran Pandev: Did not step up his game when he was needed as Rafa Benitez used his squad rotation policy. Pandev did not do anything productive, made poor tackles and got one of the yellow cards which were handed out. Going forward, I believe that Pandev should be used in games versus “provinciali” (smaller) teams and in Coppa Italia matches.
- Giampaolo Calvarese: All one has to do is see the history of the amount of cards handed out by Calvarese to know it is his nature to go overboard (http://www.soccerway.com/referees/giampaolo-calvarese/166140/). His decision making ruined the fluidity of this signifcant match. In my opinion, his first questionable decision was the penalty awarded to Fiorentina, when Frederico Fernandez “pushed” over Stefan Savic in the box. Another call that favored Napoli but angered Fiorentina players and fans alike was the red card given to Juan Cuadrado. From replays it shows Gokan Inler contacting Cuadrado in the box. Should the penalty have been awarded? Yes, but it was not.
- Flopping: This game had a significant amount of flopping and flailing by both sides. I know I may be biased, however, it seemed that Fiorentina players were falling over quite easily and sometimes without contact. Calvarese gave 2 yellow cards for simulation to Cuadrado and Rossi. Unfortunately, simuation in soccer will always be there unless FIFA/UEFA enforce a harsher penalty by way of deterrent (Red card or heavily fined).
Napoli stay five points behind AS Roma (who have set a record in Serie A for going 10-0 to begin the season) and will be hosting Catania at Stadio San Paolo in the next match. Napoli fans should expect more squad rotation with a Champions League match on November 6th and with Christian Maggio suspended. I am hoping to see Rafael play his first match for Napoli.
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