Napoli were given a test of a different nature as they descended upon the Marassi to take on a Sampdoria side that were wishing an emotional farewell to two of their great heroes who passed in recent weeks.
Having just lost to Inter, Napoli knew they needed to play the game rather than the occasion and that is what they managed to do, securing a 2-0 win in the process that puts the pressure back on AC Milan.
Napoli can stay calm when no one else is
It was an incredibly emotional day at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris as the Sampdoria fans got their chance to make the passing of both Gianluca Vialli and Sinisa Mihajlovic. There were tears all around, particularly from Samp coach Dejan Stankovic.
The Video Assistant Referee soon pierced that mournful atmosphere by awarding a very surprising penalty to Napoli for either a push or stamp on Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa by Nicola Murru. There appeared to be no real foul there. Either way, Matteo Politano stepped up and couldn’t convert, seeing his penalty saved by Emil Audero.
Tensions were running extremely high all around the ground and on the pitch for varying reason, but the Napoli players looked ice cold. That showed when Mario Rui played a great ball into the box that the ever-persistent Osimhen met to turn into the roof of the net to make it 1-0.
The atmosphere stayed at fever pitch soon after the goal as Napoli continued to make chances and then Rincon was shown a straight red card shortly before halftime. Osimhen danced past one defender and whilst making his way into the box, and he was cleaned out with force by Rincon and there was no choice but to send him off.
Whilst Napoli struggled to kill the game for a long time, they refused to let themselves get swept away with the emotion of the day. There was a bad challenge on Khvicha Kvaratskhelia by Jeison Murillo that could have been a red as well, but that still didn’t make Napoli flap.
Their reward came when another penalty was given after a handball from Ronaldo Viera and Eljif Elmas stepped up to convert and make it 2-0 with less than 10 minutes to go.
There’s an improvement from Sampdoria
Sampdoria may have lost against Napoli, but were they ever really expecting to win? Two things really mattered to Stankovic. Giving Vialli and Mihajlovic a fitting send-off, and putting in a performance that shows some improvement from 2022.
His side were seriously poor in the first phase of the season and looked utterly doomed. The win against Sassuolo on Matchday 16 suggested that a change may be coming, and the showing against Napoli did not disagree with that notion too much.
They looked more solid than before, there was something of a threat in attack although it was limited and is the area that needs addressing most, and Vialli and Mihajlovic certainly got a fitting send-off.