Napoli blew their chance to seal qualification to the Champions League knockout stage with two games to spare on Tuesday evening, labouring in a 1-1 draw with Red Bull Salzburg at Stadio San Paolo.
It was written in the transfer rumour stars that Erling Braut Haaland would score against Napoli, after being linked with a move to Naples in recent weeks. The Norwegian converted an 11th-minute penalty after Hwang Hee-chan's trickery drew a clumsy challenge from Ballon d'Or nominee Kalidou Koulibaly.
Napoli almost immediately achieved parity, Jose Callejon heading Lorenzo Insigne's cross off the inside of the post - summing up just how open the first half had been.
Napoli wasted a number of chances but managed to draw level just before half time, Insigne the provider once again. The captain controlled a bouncing ball and slotted through to Hirving Lozano who cut inside and drilled past Carlos Coronel to make it 1-1.
Salzburg, unsurprisingly, upped the tempo right away and carved out three chances in as minutes before the half-time whistle signalled some much-needed respite from a breakneck opening 45 minutes.
The second half played out in similarly open fashion and Insigne was close to giving Napoli the lead in style on 74 minutes, whipping a cleared corner back into the box only to see it strike the post and ricochet out of play from Coronel's back.
Fernando Llorente was brought on as Napoli searched for a late winner, but the Spaniard sent one header wide and another over the bar in the closing stages.
Here's 90min's take on proceedings.
Key Talking Point
Without a win in three Serie A games since their victory in Salzburg, Napoli found themselves seventh in Serie A and teetering on the brink of crisis ahead of this fixture.
The best and worst of Carlo Ancelotti's side were there for all to see on Tuesday evening, and it was easy to understand their recent struggles. They should have been punished for leaving three players unmarked at three separate corners and struggled to cope when Salzburg applied a high press.
Salzburg's back five made it difficult for Lozano and Dries Mertens to get involved in Napoli's attacking play, meaning much of the creativity came courtesy of Insigne and Callejon. The pair linked up twice and failed to convert gilt-edged chances, the former blazing over the bar several times in a wasteful opening 45 minutes.
Insigne and Callejon play on opposite wings and they’re the only 2 players on the pitch that can pass the ball to each other effectively.— Nick Ignorato (@scugnizzo_5) November 5, 2019
It was the same story in the second half as Napoli took their total number of shots to 28 and just 4 of those were on target. Too slow to react to Salzburg's switch to a back four, the away side dominated the middle period of the second half before the introduction of Arkadiusz Milik and Llorente pushed them deeper.
Even with a focal point in attack, Napoli struggled to break down their opponent and Milik was forced to drop deep on a number of occasions. Whipping balls into Llorente is always a solid plan b, but he fluffed his two chances and it was another winless match for Ancelotti.
Starting XI: Meret (7); Di Lorenzo (7), Maksimovic (7), Koulibaly (6), Rui (6); Callejón (7), Ruiz (6), Zielinski (7), Insigne (8*); Lozano (7), Mertens (6)
Substitutes: Luperto (6), Milik (6), Llorente (6)
If you hadn't seen the game and scrolled through the Twitter coverage, you'd be forgiven for thinking Lorenzo Insigne had a shocker. His greed and lack of finishing on the night sparked the ire of some vocal Napoli fans, but the more level headed could see that he was clearly their creative force and playing with higher intensity than his teammates.
He started on the left but drifted inside, stretching the Salzburg defence and getting into some fantastic positions. Twice he arrived between Napoli's strikers at the perfect moment, shooting over on one occasion and failing to connect with a Callejon cross by a matter of centimetres.
Insigne really going to have to win this game by himself...— 🇮🇹 (@InsigneSZN) November 5, 2019
Insigne is playing bravely today, that's what I want to see from him in every game— Napoli :): (@yowhatsgoodae) November 5, 2019
Guilty of being wasteful, you couldn't question his guile or creativity. His inch-perfect cross for Callejon really deserved to be converted but sadly bounced off the inside of the post, while his quick thinking to control a bouncing ball set Napoli on their way to the equaliser. Desperately unlucky to see his long-range shot ricochet the wrong side of the post, he must have known it wasn't his night to score.
When cleverness failed - such as a sumptuous cross-field pass that Mertens watched sail over his head - commitment was the answer, Insigne drove towards the Salzburg defence multiple times and breached them on a few occasions. Sadly, the notable absence of Napoli shooting boots meant that they just couldn't make it count.
Red Bull Salzburg
Starting XI: Coronel (7); Kristensen (7), Pongracic (6), Onguéné (6), Wöber (6), Ulmer (7); Minamino (7), Junuzovic (6), Szoboszlai (7); Haaland (8), Hwang (8*)
Substitutes: Mwepu (7), Ashimeru (6), Daka (6)
Napoli return to Serie A action in a home fixture with Genoa and followed by a trip to San Siro for an encounter against Milan. Their next European action sees them travel to Anfield to face Champions League holders Liverpool.
Austrian Bundesliga leaders Red Bull Salzburg face Wolfsberg and St Polten ahead of their Champions League fixture at Genk's Luminus Arena.