Napoli secured a 2-1 win over Atalanta at the Gewiss Stadium in Matchday 13 of Serie A, with new coach Walter Mazzarri enjoying a victorious start on his return to the club.
A tight match was settled late on as Elif Elmas pounced on a goalkeeping error to rifle home after being teed up by the returning Victor Osimhen.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia had nodded Napoli into the lead on the stroke of half-time before Ademola Lookman struck back with a fine header of his own. However, it was the visitors and Mazzarri, returning to the club after a 10-year absence, who were celebrating at Elmas‘ late impact.
Mazzarri makes his mark
With the ill-fated Rudi Garcia experiment terminated earlier this month, Napoli surprised many by handing the reigns back to Mazzarri and the coach was keen to show that he has evolved since his last stint with the club, from 2009 until 2013.
Whilst he has done little in the intervening years, aside from a solid season with Torino, Mazzarri made a positive start to his second chance in Naples with an important victory that showed many of the requirements that were lacking under Garcia.
Napoli were quick to move the ball and showed a level of urgency that hasn’t been seen since lifting the Serie A title last term, whilst the use of the flanks allowed Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Matteo Politano to swing in dangerous crosses for Giacomo Raspadori and Kvaratskhelia to attack.
It wasn’t all plain sailing and the second half dip suggests there is still plenty of work to be done, but coming up against an Atalanta side that rarely concede and earning the win is a sign that there is plenty to work with.
Atalanta undone by defensive mistakes
Atalanta came into the match with a superb defensive record and many teams have left Bergamo unable to find their attacking rhythm. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side had only conceded in one of their five home games so far this term prior to the arrival of Napoli, and were on course for a fifth clean sheet in their first six home games for the first time since 1989.
However, the Nerazzurri made a catalogue of defensive errors to allow the champions to pick them off, whilst failing to heed the warning signs when Amir Rrahmani ghosted in to head home, before the offside flag went up.
The marking for Kvarastkhelia’s opener was non-existent, allowing the Georgian the easiest goal of his Partenopei career as he nodded in from close range, whilst a disastrous clearance from goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi allowed Elmas to drill in the winner. After being so reliable at the back, the clumsy defending on show could prove to be a wake-up call.
Champions dominant on the road
Whilst their scudetto defence has been underwhelming, Napoli are still enjoying turning up and spoiling the day for opponents with some excellent away form. The Azzurri have now picked up 17 points from seven matches on their travels, but only 10 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Indeed, the champions appear to have greater freedom to use their devastating pace and wing play in away games and it is proving fruitful, whilst home matches are tighter and more stifling.
With a third of the season gone, Mazzarri must find a way to get his team to enjoy home comforts if they are to maintain any hope of retaining their crown, starting with the visit of league leaders Inter in Matchday 14.