Napoli 4 - 1 Fiorentina: match report
In Curzio Malaparte's 'The Skin', a dark novel set during the allied occupation of Naples during World War Two, a prominent theme is how the Neapolitans subtly take advantage of the foreign soldiers. There was nothing subtle about Napoli's dissection of Fiorentina at San Paolo, as goals from Koulibaly, Mertens (2), and Insigne kept Maurizio Sarri's team within theoretical reach of the Serie A title. Ilicic pulled a goal back for Fiorentina, but it was no more than a consolation.
With this win, Napoli ensured that Serie A will see be three-horse title-race, at least until Juventus play Crotone on Sunday. With a one point advantage over second-placed Roma, and one game in hand, The Old Lady can wrap the league up in Turin.
Yet Napoli did their job. Koulibaly opened the scoring after just eight minutes. The centre-half bundled the ball over the line, after Tatarusanu had parried Marek Hamsik's header in to his path.
From the moment the ball settled in to the net, Napoli looked in total control. Paolo Sousa set his team up in a risky, gung-ho fashion. In practice, the away side looked like lambs to the slaughter, as their three-man defence was repeatedly exposed by Napoli's fluid attacking trident, made up of Insigne, Callejón, and magical Mertens.
Insigne doubled the lead after 36 minutes. He emerged one-on-one with the 'keeper, and shaped to shoot to the far post, before sliding the ball in at the near one. It was an ostentatious finish.
Napoli's third goal was not quite as easy on the eye. Fiorentina allowed 5 ft 4 Lorenzo Insigne to nod the ball on at the near post. The 'keeper flapped, failed to gather, and Mertens was lurking to prod the ball home from close range. It represented Fiorentina's evening in microcosm: the danger was all of their own making.
Ilicic briefly reduced the deficit, as the Croatian swept in a cross from just inside the box. But even then, it seemed inconceivable that Fiorentina would be able to survive the waves of Napoli attack, let alone punch their way back in to the game.
Mertens took his for the season to 27 goals on the 64th minute, and it was in irresistable fashion. The Belgian nutmegged Rodríguez on the edge of the box, before sending a sassy no-look pass to Insigne. His shot was saved, but the ball dribbled invitingly to Mertens, who smashed the ball in from close range.
In a game that pitted an incisive attack against a porous defence, the result came as little surprise. Unfortunately for Napoli, it will probably come too late.
Napoli 4 - 1 Fiorentina: as it happened
Napoli vs Fiorentina: preview
Napoli host Fiorentina in the San Paolo on Saturday as the Serie A season reaches its climax. There is still plenty to be decided in Italy’s top flight, not least whether Juventus will claim the Scudetto when the leaders host Crotone, who have taken 17 points from their last seven games in a spectacular bid for survival after being eight points adrift of 19th as recently as March.
But in Naples European football is on the menu. It only remains to be seen where exactly the Partenopei and La Viola make their reservations. Maurizio Sarri’s side are one point behind Roma with avoidance of the Champions League play-off round at stake while Paulo Sousa has guided his team to seventh, a point behind Milan in the final qualifying place for the Europa League.
Napoli also have an outside chance of claiming the Serie A title, which should spur the home side on against a team that have found goals hard to come by this season and have been erratic in the extreme in recent weeks, winning two, drawing two and losing two of their last six league fixtures. However, Juventus are likely to put that extremely outside bet to bed at home against Crotone.
Sarri’s side have the in-form Dries Mertens to look to for goals as the Belgian seeks to run down Roma’s Edin Dzeko (27) in the chase for the capocannoniere trophy. Mertens stands on 25, level with Torino’s Andrea Belotti and has José Callejón, the division’s highest assist-maker with 11, to provide the ammunition.
Sousa, meanwhile, will be forced to contend with the absence of two of his key midfielders, Borja Valero and Milan Badelj, in the San Paulo, where Fiorentina have won just twice in the last decade.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Fiorentina: Tatarusanu; Tomovic, Rodriguez, Sanchez; Chiesa, Vecino, Cristoforo, Milic; Bernardeschi, Babacar; Kalinic