Napoli wasted the opportunity to close the gap on Juventus to two points, as they struggled to earn a 0-0 draw with Sampdoria.
The Partenopei went into this match with mixed sensations, as while they were on a Serie A roll and had the chance to close within two points of leaders Juventus, they were also surprisingly beaten 3-0 at home by Viktoria Plzen in the Europa League on Thursday. Valon Behrami and Lorenzo Insigne returned, Pablo Armero had his full debut, while Sampdoria hoped to continue their revival under Delio Rossi, although Angelo Palombo missed out.
Rossi was in the stands to start a two-match ban for making offensive gestures towards the Roma bench last week. Samp had lost their previous four visits to the San Paolo without finding the net.
Napoli wore black armbands and held a minute’s silence for Carmelo Imbriani, their former player who died this week at the age of 37.
Samp had the first chance after a couple of minutes, as Gianluca Sansone squirmed between defenders and eventually saw his toe-poke smothered by Morgan De Sanctis from point-blank range.
At the other end, Insigne unleashed a screamer that forced Sergio Romero into a tricky parry, while Cavani also tested the goalkeeper. A Marek Hamsik effort was deflected to become an assist for Cavani, but El Matador could not readjust his position in time and only prodded it into Romero’s arms.
Lorenzo De Silvestri almost surprised De Sanctis at the base of the near post, but the goalkeeper just about got it under control.
Napoli were increasingly under pressure as the first half wore on and there were chaotic scenes as they tried to clear a free kick amid a sea of legs.
De Sanctis was at full stretch flat on the ground to fingertip a Sansone daisy-cutter round the base of the post on 33 minutes.
From the resulting corner De Sanctis mistimed his intervention, allowing Andrea Cost a free header, but Behrami was there for a decisive goalline clearance. The move continued and De Sanctis saved the Mauro Icardi follow-up.
Sansone went very close again before the break, skipping past Gokhan Inler to test De Sanctis with an angled strike.
After the restart Samp continued to scare the San Paolo crowd, as Icardi had managed to wriggle free from Miguel Angel Britos and was pulling the trigger from seven yards when Behrami dived in with a decisive tackle.
Walter Mazzarri made a double substitution, switching to a 4-3-3 system. Insigne’s screamer dipped suddenly, as Romero let it bounce off his chest for a corner in a very confused save.
Samp were now all on the counter-attack as Napoli took control, but Icardi’s volley was off target from an Eder cross. Juan Camilo Zuniga risked giving away a penalty with his clumsy intervention on Andrea Poli at the by-line.
Romero fumbled another dangerous Hamsik cross, but Hugo Campagnaro’s diving header was straight back into his arms.
Napoli were laying siege now and on 74 minutes a fierce Hamsik daisy-cutter thumped the inside of the far post and ricocheted back into the grateful arms of Romero, as the goalkeeper really was riding his luck.
Romero flapped a free kick away and was fortunate the Paolo Cannavaro follow-up was deflected straight at him.
Cannavaro ran on to a Hamsik through ball and his screamer of a rising strike from the left side of the box shaved a coat of paint off the bar.
There was a huge scare four minutes from time when De Sanctis ran practically to the corner flag and collided with Maxi Lopez, but the referee waved play on as replays show the striker went down at the slightest contact.
It was all Napoli pouring forward and Sampdoria desperately beating everything away. Eder had one chance on the counter, hitting the side-netting.