Gilardino 60, 87, Jovetić 94
Late goals from Alberto Gilardino and Stevan Jovetić broke Neapolitan hearts after a pulsating game at the Stadio San Paolo last night. Both sides came in to the game off the back of an indifferent run of form. Napoli was without a victory in seven while Fiorentina, seeking their first away win against Napoli since 1995, were on a four game winless run.
From the outset Napoli opted to play a narrow game in the midfield and a pushed up back-three giving la Viola’s central midfielders little room to operate. The tactic forced the visitors to play wide, creating space for Jovetić to exploit the left channel and link up effectively with Gilardino, who had the first meaningful chance of the game. The Italian spurned a gilt-edge opportunity on 15 minutes when he guided a free-header the wrong side of the post from close range. Despite this it was Napoli who enjoyed the best of the early exchanges, they dominated in the middle of the park, taking advantage of a Fiorentina side clearly missing the incisive passing and midfield marshalling usually provided by Riccardo Montolivo. With Cesare Prandelli opting to rest his skipper after a long season and exhausting midweek encounter with Bayern Munich.
Ezequiel Lavezzi’s headed goal two minutes after the restart sparked the game into life after a cagey first half. The midfield opened up allowing both teams to play an exhilarating brand of free-flowing attacking football. Lavezzi gave the visitors a particularly torrid time, inspiring the best of Napoli’s attacking moves as they searched for a second. Clearly missing a crucial link between the midfield and front line to turn their attacking gusto in to meaningful service Prandelli introduced playmaker Montolivo and Kouma Babacar to the game. The substitutions proved inspired – the 16 year-old Senegalese forward used his strength and tenacity to the win the ball setting Jovetić free to cross to Gilardino who made no mistake from six yards. The goal instigated a resurgence for Fiorentina. After a period of sustained pressure from the hosts la Viola began to take control of the midfield courtesy of a typically assured performance from Montolivo who was tireless in defence and attack, and the industry of Jovetić, who proved a menace in a man-of-the match performance.
The game was still anyone’s when Jovetić was again provider for Gilardino, powering a header in to the path of the Italian who obliged with a flick to silence the Stadio San Paolo. Morgan de Sanctis’ desperate bid to help his side preserve their home record killed the game off when Jovetić, after running the length of the pitch, put the ball in to the net he vacated to join the attack for a corner.
Despite the defeat, Napoli will take comfort in a vastly improved performance, they controlled the game in the first half with their failure to convert their chances and exceptional individual performances from Jovetić and Gilardino proving the difference on the night. Prandelli will be delighted with the character his side showed to turn the game around.