Napoli’s first result on the road in 2013/14 was a good one, a 4-2 victory against Chievo Verona in a dramatic match full of twists and turns.
The Gialloblu were stubborn, twice coming back from a goal down through a pair of clever finishes from Alberto Paloschi, but a double from Marek Hamsik and goals from new signings Jose Callejon and Gonzalo Higuain (his first since joining from Real Madrid) ensured the Partenopei took home three points from their first away fixture.
Their next trip to Milan provided what looked like a greater test, but Rafa Benitez’s Napoli put in an equally good performance to secure their first win at the San Siro since 1986. Miguel Britos and Higuain were on the scoresheet, but the game will perhaps be remembered most for Pepe Reina putting an end to Mario Balotelli’s faultless record of 21 goals from 21 penalty attempts with a strong dive to his right.
Napoli’s deadly form away from the San Paolo continued a fortnight later against Genoa, who succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Benitez’s men.
Goran Pandev dispatched the opener following a bizarre moment of Genoa confusion at the back which saw a Rossoblu defender accidentally send him straight through on goal. And the Macedonian ensured the points were all Napoli’s ten minutes later with a powerful drive across goal into the corner from a tight angle.
The following time Benitez’s men ventured from the San Paolo was for the most important match of the season so far against Roma, who were then deep into their 10-game winning streak. The pressure was perhaps more on the Gialloblu to keep their run going, but it was Napoli who failed to rise to the occasion as Diego Maradona watched on from the stands.
Pandev should have opened the scoring after the chance arose for him to run in on goal unchallenged, but Daniele De Rossi made a heroic clearance off the line, and instead it was Miralem Pjanic who broke the deadlock for Roma with an unstoppable free-kick. It was the Bosnian, too, who finished Napoli off, converting from the penalty spot to consign them to their first dropped points away from home in Serie A.
The Partenopei’s most recent away fixture saw them get back to winning ways against tough opposition Fiorentina, who hadn’t lost yet at the Artemio Franchi.
The first goal was a peach: Higuain crossed in from the left with the outside of his boot towards the back post, where Callejon volleyed it home with a powerful connection. Vincenzo Montella’s men were allowed back into it when a push in the box gave Giuseppe Rossi the chance to fire in a penalty, and Juan Cuadrado hit the post from 35 yards soon afterwards, but Dries Mertens won it for Napoli after bursting into the area and drilling the ball into the far corner.
Benitez is famous for his tactical acumen, and his preferred system is a compact 4-2-3-1 formation which uses zonal marking when not in possession of the ball.
Leading the line in the Napoli set-up this season has been Higuain. He is behind Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik in the Napoli top-scorers chart, but with two goals and three assists he has had a hand in 50% of their away goals in the league. However, he didn’t manage to score in either of his two previous games against Juventus for Real Madrid: the two 2008/09 Champions League Group Stage encounters.
Arguably more of an attacking threat this season is Jose Callejon, who is in the form of his life: in just 11 games he has already equalled his record total for a single campaign (including the 2010/11 season at Espanyol in which he played 37 matches).
Napoli have scored eight goals from outside the area in open play in this Serie A campaign, a record in the five major European leagues, and are strong right from kick-off, having netted eight times in the first 15 minutes.
Pepe Reina has not conceded at all before the 24th minute, and although the Napoli defence have allowed their opposition 54 more shots than Juventus’, they have conceded two fewer goals.
The Partenopei have not always controlled possession in their away games in the same way the Bianconeri have: in their last one against Fiorentina, Napoli had only 31.2% of the ball, the lowest figure since their return to Serie A in 2007.