Napoli’s unbeaten start to the season ended on Wednesday night as Chievo Verona took advantage of a sloppy performance to win 3-1 at the Stadio San Paolo. The home side had previously picked up two draws and a win, while Chievo arrived seeking to bounce back after losing at home to Brescia on Sunday. They did so in fine style and deservedly took the three points despite going behind.
After being victorious at his old club Sampdoria last weekend, Walter Mazzarri was looking to guide his side to back-to-back Serie A wins. However, the Napoli Coach came across determined opposition and despite warning the players before the game they faced a tough battle, his advice seemingly went unheeded as his side pressed the self-destruct button.
It all started so well and the Partenopei were ahead after just eight minutes thanks to Paolo Cannavaro. Goals are rare for the talismanic Captain, whose best tally in a single season is three, back in 2005-06 when he played for Parma. But this was already his second of the current campaign and he is now well placed to challenge those stats after stealing in at the back post to head in Ezequiel Lavezzi’s cross from a quickly-taken corner.
It could have been 2-0 shortly after as Edinson Cavani went close, flicking Lavezzi’s whipped centre from the right flank narrowly over the crossbar. To Chievo’s credit, they weathered some early Neapolitan pressure and were worthy of their equaliser, a spectacular effort from Sergio Pellissier after 26 minutes. The ball was clipped to the striker, who didn’t look to be in a goalscoring position, but he volleyed thunderously past Morgan De Sanctis, giving Napoli’s goalkeeper no chance.
Marek Hamsik tried to reply for the hosts and went desperately close to restoring his side’s lead. Collecting a through-ball, Hamsik glided around goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino but from an acute angle agonisingly hit the woodwork.
The second half was a different story, with Napoli’s sluggish midfield allowing Chievo to overrun them. The visitors’ second goal after 58 minutes was testament to this. Pellessier controlled a long ball and teed up substitute Gelson Fernandes to score from the edge of the area. There was a suspicion of handball in the move but Fernandes should not have been allowed to run directly through the heart of Napoli’s midfield untracked.
Again, Hamsik had the opportunity to equalise moments later, but his close-range header was well blocked by Sorrentino. With 16 minutes left, Napoli threw away any chance they had of a comeback when Cannavaro uncharacteristically gifted Chievo their third goal. Without seeing Pellissier behind him, Cannavaro carelessly under-hit a back-pass to De Sanctis and the grateful striker nipped in to seal the win.
“It was a really, really bad day,” Mazzarri said afterwards.
“Our opponents ran harder, put pressure on and were certainly sprightlier than us. We made many individual errors and you know that in the end a team pays the price for those.
“However, I would also like to underline that many incidents went against us. There was a clear penalty on Lavezzi and at that point I wondered how things might have changed. Besides, without taking anything away from Chievo, the second goal came from a Sergio Pellissier handling offence.”
With all focus on the match, it almost went unnoticed that the Club had arranged for Mario Balotelli’s younger brother to have a trial with them. Enock Barwuah, the Manchester City striker’s 17-year-old brother, has been playing for Serie D side Carpenedolo.
“My dream is to wear the Napoli jersey. I hope to do well and convince the Club of my worth. Also, Mario has spoken many good things about Naples, saying it would be just the city for me,” Barwuah commented.
“Ezequiel Lavezzi is my idol, I am inspired to play like him. Mario calls me every day and knows of my trial – he follows me and encourages me. I cannot be compared to him, though – we play differently even if we both share the offensive characteristics.”
Perhaps due to media attention, the Club have since postponed young Enock’s trial until further notice, and the next chapter of Mario Balotelli’s influence on Italian football is yet to be written.
Napoli will have an immediate chance to get back to winning ways at the weekend, though they face a tough trip to Cesena. It’s early days but any thoughts of the newly-promoted side being a pushover have already been quashed. A surprise package so far, they took the scalp of Milan in week two and currently sit in sixth place. Mazzarri will be hoping his side can keep a professional head and bounce back in the same fashion as Chievo on Wednesday.