By 90Min
February 11, 2018

Napoli recovered from an uncharacteristically sloppy start, to thrash third-placed Lazio 4-1 and leap over Juventus to resume their position as Serie A leaders.

As alluded to, it was Lazio who made the faster start, playing at a tempo that seemed to catch Maurizio Sarri's side off guard.

This early pressure was converted just before the clock struck three minutes, with centre-back Stefan de Vrij getting the faintest of touches from a sumptuous in-swinging cross from Ciro Immobile, momentarily silencing the vocal crowd inside the Stadio San Paolo.

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The Neopolitans, in what is fast becoming an apparent obligation for clubs in this social media driven age, had staged a 'heartfelt' show of unity for left-back Faouzi Ghoulam following his recent injury setback, but they were clearly unable to return their attentions to the crucial game at hand fast enough.

Having been out-paced and out-powered throughout the opening stages, Napoli then struggled to get a foothold in the game, and despite increased possession, the side from Rome were much the more composed.

Promising positions of possession were scuppered by poor control or a lack of precision, and any errors were pounced on by the men in white, with the subsequent swift counter attacks always looking dangerous.

Despite the hosts' continued sluggishness, they were able to pose a threat to Lazio's defence on occasion, with several probing balls over the top finding Insigne and Mertens in good positions, but the final finish eluded them both.

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With the Gli Azzurri remaining atypically loose with the ball, it was highly coveted Serbain midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic who was exuding the most control in the middle of the park, outperforming his Slovakian counterpart Marek Hamsik.

However, the Eagles' bold pressing game was finally undone just before the end of the half, as Jorginho's sublimely accurate clipped ball found the feet of Jose Callejon, who followed up a deft first touch with a decisive second, caressing the ball to the left of Strakosha to level the scores.

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Despite his side's recovery, Maurizio Sarri evidently retained plenty of frustration from the previous 43 minutes of action, and was sent to the stands just before the close of the half after over exuberantly berating the officials following a foul from Milinkovic-Savic.

Far from impeding Napoli, Sarri's imposed absence seemingly spurred them on, and their breakneck start to the second half was the complete antithesis of their lacklustre opening an hour before. 

After Lorenzo Insigne spurned three excellent chances to give his side the lead inside the first five minutes, the visitors eventually succumbed to the smothering Napoli pressure, with Wallace unable to deal with goalscorer Callejon's dangerous cross, turning it into his own net.


The home side did not rest on their newfound lead, however, and further pressure yielded a third goal only two minutes later. Perhaps fittingly, it was Faouzi Ghoulam's replacement Mario Rio who saw his speculative effort deflect off half time substitute Zielinski into the net. 

With the shackles well and truly loosened, the boys in blue were suddenly eliciting a level of control on the proceedings that would've been inconceivable only 30 minutes earlier.

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Indeed it was the aforementioned Zielinski (replacing the unusually erratic Marek Hamsik) who was at the forefront of Napoli's sudden domination, providing a sublime lifted pass through to Mertens in the six yard box, whose dexterous flick beyond the keeper buried the memories of de Vrij's similarly light touch 70 minutes before.

With the crowd now back on side, and again loving life as a Neopolitana, the closing minutes were an exhibition for Sarri's side, with all of their notorious attacking verve on full show.

After a tough start, they showed all the right qualities needed to sustain a title challenge, and their mental fortitude will have given their fans plenty to dream about on their way home.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)