Atalanta twice came from behind to snatch a late 2-2 draw against SSC Napoli at the San Paolo Stadium to maintain their lead over Carlo Ancelotti's side and remain third in Serie A.
The home side's early pressure eventually paid off after 16 minutes, with Nikola Maskimovic rising highest to nod home Jose Callejon's pinpoint cross, as Napoli took a deserved lead.
Atalanta are no pushovers, however, and their threat on the counter attack persisted until three minutes before half-time when Alex Meret allowed Remo Freuler's effort to squeeze underneath him to level matters.
Tactical discipline was key to the second period, as both managers aimed to tighten up at the back and use their nouse and creative players to unpick the opposing defensive locks.
Patience was key in the second half, as Arkadiusz Milik beat the offside trap and with Gollini marauding off his line, the Pole rounded the goalkeeper and slotted into an empty net. When it appeared as if the home side would secure all three points, a controversial decision not to award Napoli a late penalty saw Atalanta go straight up the other end and level through Josip Ilicic.
Chaos ensued, as Carlo Ancelotti saw red for protesting a decision that bizarrely ruled Fernando Llorente wasn't fouled.
That proved to be the final goal of the game as Napoli were left to rue VAR for denying them what would have been a crucial win against their top four rivals in Serie A.
Key Talking Point
It was a blistering opening by the hosts on Wednesday night, taking Atalanta by surprise but throwing numerous bodies forward with the aim of snatching an early lead. With the likes of Hirving Lozano, Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli boast frightening pace in forward areas and this caused Atalanta huge distress in the early stages.
There is good reason why Atalanta finished third in the division last season, though. This is a side that don't boast the headline-grabbing names that Napoli do, but attack as a team, defend as a team and work for each other with unwavering determination.
As the visitors grew into the game, everything that I Partenopei threw at their opponents was thrown straight back them, with Napoli struggling to impose themselves onto the match and losing their grip of proceedings. The second half improved, as the hosts looked a more disciplined outfit tactically, with the introduction of Dries Mertens proving fruitful as he drew Atalanta players out of position.
Milik's goal looked like securing the victory, but the home side were left to curse VAR for denying them a penalty after a lengthy review turned down their appeals for a spot-kick. Their misery was compounded when the visitors went up the other end and bagged the equalising goal, with both Ancelotti and his assistant seeing red in the furore that ensued.
Anyone who thinks England alone is having problems with VAR needs to be watching Napoli right now. Manager and coach sent off. Players going mad. Rugby tackle for Napoli penalty ignored. Atalanta immediately equalise at other end.— Simon Stone (@sistoney67) October 30, 2019
VAR drama in Naples. A penalty for Napoli became a goal for Atalanta. 2-2.— The Gracchi Brothers (@Chianti_mipiace) October 30, 2019
Ancelotti red card, misses Roma.
Llorente appeals for a pen. Atalanta go up the other end and score. Napoli protest. VAR confirms Atalanta goal stands. Open revolt at the San Paolo. Red card for Napoli assistant. Then Ancelotti. Insigne booked. No restart as yet— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) October 30, 2019
Having seemed like securing the win, this will feel like a defeat to Napoli, who knew how important beating the side directly above them in the table would be towards their aspirations this season.
Starting XI: Meret (6); Di Lorenzo (7), Maksimovic (7), Koulibaly (7), Luperto (7); Callejon (7), Allan (N/A), Ruiz (8*), Insigne (7); Lozano (5), Milik (7)
Substitutes: Zielinksi (6), Mertens (7), Llorente (N/A)
In a match that required Napoli's central players to keep their composure against the three midfielders Atalanta like to operate with, Fabian Ruiz stood up to the task effectively.
There is good reason why he is a wanted man across Europe, with the Spaniard's technical ability and range of passing exemplary at times this season. He was superb in the centre of the park, which was demonstrated with his wonderfully weighted pass for Milik's goal.
Starting XI: Gollini (7); Toloi (7), Djimsiti (6), Palomino (7); Hateboer (7), de Roon (8), Freuler (7), Gosens (7), Gomez (7); Pasalic (7), Ilicic (8)
Substitutes: Kjaer (5), Castagne (5), Muriel (7)
Its a trip to the capital next for Napoli, who head to the Stadio Olimpico to take on Roma in Serie A this Saturday.
For Atalanta, they are back in the familiar surroundings of the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia as they host Cagliari in Serie A on Sunday.