Napoli 4-1 Atalanta
It speaks volumes for the rise and rise of Atalanta that this Serie A result was something of a surprise.
Not the fact that the home side won but more the margin of a contest which was effectively over long before half-time.
Perhaps it was the hurt and anger which sparked such first half Serie A highlights from the hosts.
If so, their irritation was completely justified after the ridiculously harsh decision of Serie A’s disciplinary committeeto dock Gennaro Gattuso’s men apoint for failing to fulfil a fixture a fortnight ago.
As they await the verdict of their inevitable appeal, this was an emphatic two finger salute at those who have tried to derail their impressive start to the campaign.
Highlights of the game
Yes, we expected a goalfest– so did the SBOTOP Serie A betting odds – but not quite like this!
Napoli threw Tiemoue Bakayoko in from the start for his debut – reunited with his former Milan coach on loan from Chelsea – while Victor Osimhen was also handed a place in the starting XI.
The Partenopei were still suffering the effects of Covid, however, with Piotr Zielinski and Eljif Elmas missing after their tests, and Lorenzo Insigne also injured.
Atalanta, who had a 100 per cent record going into the game, also had absentees with Mattia Caldara out for three months following knee surgery, goalkeepers Pierluigi Gollini and Marco Carnesecchi sidelined, while the surprise decision was made to hand Josip Ilicic his first start since early July.
In fairness, he spent most of the opening half as a spectator as the hosts were clinical at the other end of the pitch.
Fired up and furious after the Juventus controversy, it took them 23 minutes to open the scoring but that opened the floodgates for three goals in just seven minutes.
First Giovanni Di Lorenzo delivered a fine cross in from the right, beyond Osimhen but Hirving Lozano was waiting to tap-in from close range.
Within a few minutes that lead was doubled as two defenders collided trying to anticipate Osimhen and Lozano expertly curled a perfect right-foot finish into the far bottom corner.
A piledriver from Matteo Politano left the visitors shellshocked three minutes later and they had a fourth just before the break as Osimhen netted his first Napoli goal.
The Nigerian had already stung Marco Sportiello’s gloves before capitalising on another defensive error to fire a first-time effort into the bottom corner.
Atalanta, brilliant for the past two seasons and Champions League quarter-finalists in their maiden European Cup campaign last term, knew the game was up and merely had pride to restore, netting a consolation 21 minutes from the end.
Cristian Romero had been one of the visitors’ weak-links in defence in the opening 45 minutes but showed his attributes going forward as he rode two challenges to send Sam Lammers clear and the former PSV striker did the rest.
Had fellow substitute Ruslan Malinovskyi blasted home instead of just wide, or if had Robin Gosens nodded in instead of over, the scoreline may have been more respectable for Atalanta but, there again, it could have been worse as Sportiello produced a fine save to deny Lozano a hat-trick late on.
This was Napoli’s day and Atalanta’s unbeaten start to the season is over after they had become the first side in Europe’s top five leagues since Real Madrid (1987) to score at least four goals in each of their opening three games of the season.
They can put today to one side, however. The fact their next game is the start of their second successive Champions League campaign speaks volumes for their progress.
Atalanta’s games so far this term have seen an average of 5.8 goals – only Bayern Munich (6.7) have seen more in the top five European Leagues.
In the last seven Serie A seasons, Atalanta have conceded at least seven shots on target in the first half only twice (nine today), both against Napoli at San Paolo (today and last season).
Both sides now start their 20-21 European campaigns.
Napoli host AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League on Thursday night (October 22) before travelling to newly promoted Benevento next weekend.
Atalanta are at Danish minnows Midtjylland in the Champions League on Wednesday and then welcome Sampdoria in Serie A, a week today (October 24).
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