After a two week hiatus for the international break, Serie A returns with the season’s first Derby del Sole as Roma travel to the Stadio San Paolo to face Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli.
Almost a decade ago, Luciano Spalletti’s squad headed to Naples still led by the evergreen Francesco Totti as they chased down Inter in a bid to secure the 2007/08 Scudetto. The Giallorossi were in fine form, having thumped Parma 4-0 in their previous Serie A fixture and then dumped Real Madrid out of the Champions League in midweek.
The same could be said for Edy Reja’s Napoli, who shocked the peninsula the week before by halting Inter’s title bid as they saw off Roberto Mancini’s men thanks to a Marcelo Zalayeta strike.
The fixture was set up perfectly and that afternoon in March 2008, the Derby del Sole certainly lived up to its name. Bathed in the Neapolitan sunshine, the iconic Stadio San Paolo was in fine voice, its stands awash with colour and vibrancy.
However, Spalletti’s men started the game on top and soon silenced the intimidating home crowd. After a poor Christian Panucci cross was cleared straight to Francesco Totti on the edge of the box, Il Capitano split the Napoli defence with a typically incisive pass. It was weighted to perfection for Simone Perrotta who promptly gave Roma the lead with a smart finish into the bottom-left corner.
Ominously for Napoli, Totti looked in the mood and began dictating play. Moments later, he was the architect of what should have been Roma’s second. The fantasista played a neat one-two with Perrotta half way inside the Napoli half, culminating in yet another perfectly placed through ball releasing his teammate through on goal. This time, however, Perrotta failed to finish as Matteo Gianello made a smart stop with his left foot.
Napoli huffed and puffed as they tried get young Slovak, Marek Hamsik, on the ball. Yet it was Totti who was providing the master class. As a Napoli attack broke down, the Roma number 10 picked the ball up just inside his own half and set off towards the opposition penalty area. Dropping a shoulder, he beat Paolo Cannavaro with consummate ease before dragging his shot narrowly wide. Next up, it was his partner in crime Perrotta who, in almost a replica of Totti’s move, waltzed towards the Napoli penalty area before blazing over. After just 20 minutes, Spalletti’s men really should have been out of sight.
As the half drew to a close, Napoli had Gianello and his feet to thank once again. Mirko Vucinic took the Napoli defence for a merry dance before the ball fell to Totti at the back post. But the Lupi were denied once again by Gianello’s heroics.
The decibels rose at the start of the second-half, with Napoli fans demanding a response from their side. However, just like the first-half, Roma stunned the San Paolo by striking early. Vucinic drifted out to the right as Napoli struggled to cope with the fluidity and interchange between Roma’s attacking players. As the Montenegrin cut inside, he played a simple pass to Totti, who in return played a deft first time pass on the inside of defender, Daniele Mannini. The onrushing Brazilian wing-back, Cicinho, was blocked off by Mannini and the referee pointed to the spot.
Stepping up confidently, Totti smashed the ball straight down the middle as the goalkeeper haplessly threw himself to his right. Thumb in mouth, left hand raised, Totti celebrated knowing he had likely wrapped up all three points for the visitors.
Roma continued to play some scintillating football and another free-flowing move almost made it three. In a ‘tiki-taka’ style build-up, Perrotta played the ball to Rodrigo Taddei, Taddei flicked it back to Perrotta, Perrotta laid it centrally to Totti and he sprayed it out to Vucinic on the right. Having not heeded their earlier lesson, Vucinic was allowed to cut inside and was unfortunate to be denied by Gianello (Napoli’s man of the match) who turned the effort past the post.
As the game drew to a close, the hosts did eventually have the ball in the net, a neat move down the left saw Ezequiel Lavezzi break, squaring the ball to Hamsik who tapped home. But celebrations were cut short after Lavezzi was deemed offside.
As Roma took their foot off the gas, Napoli ended the game strongly, and had the ball in the net for a second time. This time it was chalked off for handball, as Maurizio Domizzi converted a cross by means of punching the ball home from close range. The last action of the game saw Roma’s giant Brazilian keeper’ Doni deny Lavezzi on what was a forgettable afternoon for the Neapolitans.