Andrea Petagna’s acrobatic half-volley in the 43rd minute fired the Partenopei to a narrow 1-0 triumph at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
Napoli closed out 2021 with a dismal 1-0 home defeat to newly-promoted Empoli before being held to a 1-1 draw to Juventus in their first Serie A game of 2022. A run of poor form saw the Partenopei lose precious ground on the league leaders Milan and Inter, putting Spalletti’s win in a precarious spot ahead of Sunday’s fixture.
Despite lacking several first-team stars, including Kalidou Koulibaly, Victor Osimhen and Hirving Lozano, Napoli knew anything but a win over bottom-half opposition would likely end their title hopes. Therefore, Spalletti’s men went all-out-attack at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium and pulled off a vital victory.
Though a 1-0 scoreline may suggest otherwise, it was an utterly impressive performance from the southern giants. They attempted a staggering 22 shots on goal and saw the VAR disallow Juan Jesus’ 35th-minute goal for offside. But Petagna made his rare Serie A start count only a few minutes later with a sublime finish.
Napoli have stayed within a five-point distance of current pacesetters Milan, though it’s worth noting that second-placed Inter have two games in hand on both sides. Spalletti was satisfied with his side’s display despite numerous wasted opportunities.
“It was a real Napoli, they didn’t manage to close it out, but for 90 minutes they had an exemplary attitude,” he said in the post-game interview, as relayed by Claudio Russo.
Spalletti also explained his decision to start Petagna over Matteo Politano and Elif Elmas.
“I had to put someone fresh in. I had to put in Elmas, then Petagna had to come in. Politano also did very well. We built well, everyone took a little piece of their teammates on their shoulders who can’t help out at the moment. It’s very good.“
Spalletti introduced Manchester United loanee Axel Tuanzebe late in the game, giving the English defender his first appearance for Napoli.
“Axel is a physical player, who can go and mark a player in the short term. He’s a good player, but he’ll have to get to know some things and our league is not easy for anyone.
“However, he has qualities and at this moment here he can be a very comfortable alternative, he plays often and every now and then he has to be replaced. Jesus and Rrahmani were exceptional, they held up against everyone and played all the time.“