Napoli paid the price for defensive howlers, terrible finishing and a saved Lorenzo Insigne penalty in a 3-2 home defeat to Besiktas.
The hosts knew a victory here and draw between Dinamo Kiev and Benfica would make them the first side ever to book a spot in the Champions League knockouts with three games to spare. It had been a devastating couple of weeks for Maurizio Sarri’s men, suffering two consecutive Serie A defeats and losing top scorer Arkadiusz Milik for at least four months to a ruptured ACL.
Manolo Gabbiadini was dropped for Dries Mertens as a False 9 and Vlad Chiriches also stepped in for injured Raul Albiol. Besiktas were unbeaten in 90 minutes this season, losing the Turkish Super Cup to Galatasaray on penalties, and brought ex-Napoli captain Gokhan Inler back to the San Paolo.
Mertens had a fantastic chance on a short corner after four minutes, blasting over unmarked from 13 yards. The Belgian then fired straight at the goalkeeper after a quick one-two with Jose Callejon.
The hosts dominated early on, but Besiktas scored with practically their first foray into the opposition half. Christian Maggio was caught napping on a Ricardo Quaresma ball flashed across the face of goal for Adriano to tap in at the back post.
Napoli continued to control the tempo and possession, Mertens’ volley beaten away at the near post from an Insigne ball over the top and Piotr Zielinski blasting over. Above all, Mertens somehow nodded wide from six yards when Insigne’s chipped assist had found him unmarked.
Moments later, Mertens made up for that howler, as he was in the right place to tap in at the near post when Callejon hooked the Zielinski ball over the top.
It was almost 2-1 for Napoli moments later, as goalkeeper Fabri misjudged a long ball for Callejon and it whistled wide of the open goal.
Instead, Jorginho incredibly passed back straight to Vincent Aboubakar, who was able to go clear on goal and fire his shot under a shaky Pepe Reina. It was his first goal for the club at the eighth appearance.
Quaresma drilled over from a tight angle and Callejon tested Fabri from close range, but as the goalkeeper tried to get the loose ball, he ran into Mertens for a penalty. Insigne stepped up and the weak, central effort was parried, adding to the list of Napoli errors.
The confidence visibly drained from the squad and another risky backpass forced Reina to come tearing out. Gabbiadini was finally introduced and Insigne jeered off the pitch.
It proved an immediate impact, because Mertens was awarded a very soft spot-kick when he tried to turn Caner Erkin and Gabbiadini converted with his first touch of the game.
Moments later, Mertens’ diving header at the near post was beaten away by Fabri. Gabbiadini also hit the bar in conjunction with a…