Two goals from Dries Mertens gave Rafa Benitez's Napoli side a 2-0 win over Sampdoria and the perfect start to the 2014.
On a sunny afternoon at the San Paolo, Napoli began the year with a fine attacking performance and a win that really could have been more emphatic. Benitez chose an attacking side, with Gonzalo Higuain operating ahead of the creative trio of Mertens, Lorezno Insigne and Jose Callejon.
It was an open start to the game, with both sides looking to make early inroads. Napoli's first big chance came when Mertens whipped over a superb cross from the right for Higuain, whose first-time shot was powerful, but straight at Sampdoria keeper Da Costa.
The visitors themselves weren't shy in coming forwards, and indeed Sampdoria had the ball in the net after 13 minutes, when Eder and Nenad Kristicic exchanged passes and the young Serbian international slotted the ball in, only for an offside flag to rule out the goal.
The teams exchanged attacks in the first half, with Callejon and Higuain both going close for Napoli, while Kristicic had another couple of opportunities for the visitors, but the half-time whistle would come with neither defence breached.
Napoli wasted little time in taking the lead after the break. Callejon played Higuain in down the right, and the Argentinean striker fired in a powerful low cross, where Mertens did brilliantly to steer the ball in at the near post, giving an off-balance Da Costa no chance. Sampdoria very nearly equalised shortly after, as Manolo Gabbiadini cut in from the left and hammered a powerful shot against the bar, but Benitez's side doubled their lead on 62 minutes.
Napoli won a free-kick in a dangerous position some 25 yards from goal, just to the left of centre. Mertens stepped up and curled the ball over the wall and past Da Costa, but the Sampdoria keeper should really have made a better fist of keeping the young Belgian's effort out. The shot was a fair distance from the corner, and Da Costa managed to get down and near the shot only for it to bounce over his hand and into the net.
Sinisa Mihajlovic's side did their best to get back into the game, with substitute Nicola Pozzi's superb effort that hit the inside of both posts their most notable effort, but Napoli closed out the game to take the three points.
It was Mihajlovic's first defeat since taking the Sampdoria job, and puts Napoli back to within ten points of leaders Juventus in the Serie A table, and re-established their three-point cushion over fourth-placed Fiorentina in the race for Champions League qualification.
- Sports & Recreation
- Dries Mertens
- Gonzalo Higuain
- Rafa Benitez
- Jose Callejon