Napoli cruised to a comfortable 3-1 first leg victory over Zurich in the Europa League Round of 32 at the Stadion Letzigrund on Thursday evening.
The Partenopei raced into an early lead as Lorenzo Insigne pounced on a goalkeeping howler, before Jose Callejon doubled the advantage soon after, as they made light work of their Swiss hosts.
Piotr Zielinski’s mazy dribble and finish extended Napoli’s lead further in the second half, before Benjamin Kololli pulled a consolation goal back from the penalty spot.
Napoli couldn’t have wished for a better start as they were gifted the opening goal with just 12 minutes gone.
Having opted to play a short pass from a goal kick to teammate Andreas Maxso, goalkeeper Yanick Brecher miscontrolled the return ball and was robbed by Arkadiusz Milik. The Polish striker was left with the simple task of squaring for Insigne to slot into an empty net.
Napoli were beginning to turn on the style and Insigne forced a finger tip save on 20 minutes with a vicious shot from range.
It proved to be a brief respite, as minutes later the Italian sprayed the ball wide for the on-rushing Kevin Malcuit to whip a low cross into the box and Callejon made no mistake in steering home at the near post.
Early in the second half, Zurich’s sloppy play almost proved costly once more as Umaru Bangura was robbed at the back by Milik to allow Insigne to slip Callejon into the box. The Spaniard’s low cross-cum-shot was flicked off the line by Maxso with Milik waiting to tap in.
As the half wore on the match became increasingly scrappy, although Napoli threatened a third from a corner, as Kalidou Koulibaly’s looping header was tipped over the crossbar.
The result was put beyond all doubt with a quarter of an hour remaining, courtesy of a superb Zielinski goal. The Poland international latched onto Callejon’s low cross and skipped through a host of tackles in the box before firing home.
Zurich came firing back all guns blazing however, with substitute Antonio Marchesano squandering a glorious opportunity by scooping Alain Nef’s backheel over the bar in the box.
The Swiss club enjoyed a series of late corners and their set pieces eventually yielded a goal. Nef met a delivery with a downward header that cannoned off Nikola Maksimovic’s arm in the box, and Kololli coolly chipped his penalty beyond Alex Meret.
Deep into stoppage time, Zurich came within inches of closing the gap further as Hekuran Kryeziu met a looping cross with a sensational volley that cracked off the crossbar and post.
Ancelotti’s no risk approach rewarded
Partenopei coach Carlo Ancelotti left no doubts about how seriously he was taking the Europa League after naming an almost full strength starting line up for the trip to Switzerland.
The veteran tactician is a master of European competition after guiding AC Milan to the Champions League twice, and with second place in Serie A becoming increasingly sewn up, the coach was able to put all focus on Zurich.
Indeed, aside from the enforced switch of Faouzi Ghoulam for the injured Mario Rui, Ancelotti only made two changes to the side that took on Fiorentina in the league on Saturday, in Arkadiusz Milik for Dries Mertens and Kevin Malcuit for Elseid Hysaj.
It led to a fluid and dominant performance, with Napoli barely needing to step out of first gear to secure a heavy away victory that sets them up for what ought to be a routine return leg in Naples next week.