As soon as he stepped foot on the pitch again, Lorenzo Insigne didn’t wait a minute to spark more regrets at his missed deployment in the Italy-Sweden World Cup Playoff. The boy from Frattamaggiore scored the first goal last night, before Piotr Zielinksi doubled the lead to help Napoli top Milan 2-1 and retain their Serie A lead, regardless of the outcome of the remaining matches from Round 13.
But despite the 11th win in 13 Serie A matches, something seems to be starting to get rusty in Maurizio Sarri’s perfect machine, which appeared less brilliant than a few weeks ago. The boys in blue – actually, wearing a sickening black outfit for the occasion – played the way they know for 20 minutes over the two halves, and that was enough to bend the Rossoneri’s weak resistance.
Yet, as soon they got comfortable with their 2-0 lead, the Partenopei left the initiative to Vincenzo Montella’s squad and their keen offensive waves: The goal conceded to Alessio Romagnoli during extra time is something a team aiming for Scudetto should pay more attention to.
Good news for Sarri indeed came from Mario Rui: the former Empoli defender is being called to substitute long-term injured Faouzi Ghoulam, and despite still not having 90 minutes in his legs, the Portuguese produced a few interesting crosses, covering the full left flank.
Vincenzo Montella’s Milan was once again Vincenzo Montella’s Milan: Much goodwill and courage, some encouraging ball possession, but an evident lack of organization and ideas. The Rossoneri grew after the break, and after having shockingly failed to bring the ball a single time into Napoli’s box for the full first half – but it took a 0-2 handicap for them to finally start showing some attributes. Romagnoli’s beautiful goal was the cherry on top – so to speak – for a team that still has a long way to go, and collected their 6th defeat in 13 campionato matches.
Not even luck is on Milan’s side, it needs to be said, as Suso – the best man for the Diavolo – was forced to leave the pitch before half time due to an injury to his back. André Silva replaced the Spaniard to support Nikola Kalinic on the attacking line, failing to bring any added value to a team whose major pain point – as Montella himself recognized in a post-match interview – seems to be the lack of effectiveness in the last 30 meters of the field.
Surely, that is a problem that Lorenzo Insigne does not have, as the goal realized at 34’ by the scugnizzo was his 6th one delivered to the Rossoneri in his career. It took the help of referee Daniele Doveri to award it, as an alleged offside position was deemed regular by the video assistance technology. Jorginho’s long-range pass served Insigne who run past Milan’s three-man defensive line and put the ball past his fellow citizen Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Minutes later, it was again Insigne to make Donnarumma’s post rattle as he caught a throw-in directly from goalie Juan Manuel Reina: Insigne’s perfect, soft touch to capture and tame the ball reminded us of a legendary goal scored the same way by Roberto Baggio while playing for Brescia. This time, the post stopped the ball run, and Insigne’s position was in offside in any case – but it was another sign of Napoli’s domination.
The battle between Insigne and Donnarumma continued right after the break, with the Neapolitan trying to emulate Alessandro Del Piero this time, with one of those lob shots from the left side just out of the box, which used to be Juventus’ former captain specialty. The Rossoneri Number 99 deflected the ball and kept the score set on 0-1.
But Donnarumma couldn’t do anything at 72’, when a sublime no look lob pass by Dries Mertens was received by substitute Piotr Zielinski, for the Polish midfielder to make the ball pass under the opponent goalie legs, and double the Partenopei lead.
At that point, Sarri called for his men to cover, while Montella’s boys incoherently pushed forward. Yet, Reina run no risks until the 91st minute, when a head clearance by Raul Albiol was driven back right into Napoli’s net with a perfectly-timed volley by defender Alessio Romagnoli – a nice and accurate shot, on which the Neapolitan goalie could have done something more anyway.
Milan showed that they still believed, and for a last-minute free kick into Napoli’s last third you could also see their goalkeeper moving forward to attack. But Lucas Biglia wasted the last chance by incredibly messing up his shot and sending the ball directly past the goal line – confirming the former Lazio playmaker’s bad moment of shape.
The Rossoneri seasonal records against Serie A tops teams remains crippling, with 0 points gained out of six direct confrontations. As for Napoli, Maurizio Sarri and his squad left San Paolo stadium with the awareness that they will maintain the top position for at least one more week – which actually became two as the additional Serie A Round matches unfolded the following day.
SCORERS: 33’ Insigne (N); 73’ Zielinski (N); 91’ Romagnoli (M)
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui (65′ Maggio); Allan, Hamsik (69′ Zielinski), Jorginho; Insigne, Mertens, Callejon (78′ Rog). (Rafael, Sepe, Maksimovic, Chiriches, Diawara, Ounas, Giaccherini). Coach: Sarri
MILAN (3-4-2-1): G. Donnarumma; Musacchio, Bonucci, Romagnoli; Borini (77′ Abate), Kessie, Montolivo (85′ Biglia), Bonaventura; Suso (47′ André Silva), Locatelli; Kalinic. (Storari, A. Donnarumma, Zapata, Rodriguez, Antonelli, Gabbia, Mauri, Cutrone). Coach: Montella
REFEREE: Mr. Doveri from Rome
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Borini (M), Allan, Albiol (N)