Walter Mazzarri made a winning return to his old club as Napoli recorded their first victory of the season at Sampdoria. His side had previously drawn three games in a row – against Fiorentina, Bari and FC Utrecht in the Europa League – but late goals from Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani cancelled out Antonio Cassano’s penalty to give the visitors a 2-1 win and the three points their performance deserved.
Mazzarri enjoyed two successful seasons with Sampdoria between 2007 and 2009, leading them to the Europa League and the Coppa Italia final, so taking his Napoli team back to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris was always going to be an intriguing affair. After the disappointing goalless stalemate against Utrecht last Thursday in the club’s first Europa League match, the Coach demanded an improvement and got the response he was hoping for.
i Partenopei were the better side for the majority of what was a highly entertaining match, though initially struggled to test Gianluca Curci in the Sampdoria goal. It looked like they would pay for their lack of cutting edge 12 minutes from time when Paolo Cannavaro was adjudged to have fouled Antonio Cassano in the box and the striker got up to convert the penalty himself. But the visitors responded swiftly and turned the match on its head with two goals in three minutes. Walter Gargano fooled the Sampdoria defence when he feigned to shoot from a free-kick 25 yards out and instead slipped a fantastic through-ball to Hamsik, who finished coolly from close range to equalise. Shortly after, Cavani took advantage of more poor defending to flick home Ezequiel Ivan Lavezzi’s left-wing cross at the near post.
“I liked the attitude of my team towards this match, as well as the way they played,” Mazzarri said afterwards.
“I had fun seeing my team play like this. It was a pleasure. We made some tactical changes up front, and the physical conditioning of some players also changed. Those four or five players who did not take part in the Europa League match last week were refreshed. It is not easy to play against a side so well organised. I can only hope that we continue to do well.”
Hamsik, the club’s top scorer for the past two seasons, added: “I don’t think we were down and out in the entire game. We had a great reaction after their goal and so we brought home a very important result. It’s fundamental to answer the critics. Winning away from home is always wonderful. We managed to turn around a tough game against Sampdoria.”
Napoli’s first three points of the season lifts them to seventh in Serie A after three matches, and comes after the news Cannavaro could be ready to end his contract dispute with the Club. The captain’s current deal will expire at the end of the season but despite showing a willingness to agree a new contract, negotiations had stalled with President Aurelio De Laurentiis. Last week, however, De Laurentiis hinted contract talks would resume in the near future after common ground was found with Cannavaro and his agents, commenting: “He [Cannavaro] is a true Neapolitan, all heart and passion.”
However, it hasn’t all been good news at the San Paolo this past week. Veteran striker Cristiano Lucarelli, signed this summer to add experience to Mazzarri’s squad, has been ruled out of action for up to six months. Lucarelli came on as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with Utrecht last Thursday but was stretchered off after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. However, the 34-year old is determined to bounce back as soon as possible.
“The injury has come at a bad time of my career, but it’s not my style to mope,” Lucarelli insisted.
“From today, for the first time in my life, I am challenging myself. I want to recover as quickly as possible to be back for the last three or four months of the season so I can be an important player and not just a memory.”
Napoli are not in action in the Europa League this week but the fixtures keep coming thick and fast with a midweek round of Serie A games. Mazzarri’s men will be hoping to continue the momentum from Sunday’s win when they host third-placed Chievo on Wednesday.