The Partenopei were undone by a stroke of misfortune in the second half at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s clearance from a corner coming off the back of Empoli striker Patrick Cutrone’s head and into the back of the net.
Despite hitting the woodwork and looking in control for most of the match, Napoli were unable to break through and slipped to a third defeat in five league games, whilst they have only won once in their last six Serie A matches.
It comes after a sensational start to the season in which Luciano Spalletti’s side won their first nine games and were held to a 0-0 draw against Roma in their 10th, establishing themselves as early pace setters for the Scudetto.
However, their wretched form has come at the worst time and has seen a healthy lead at the top of the table evaporate, leaving them in fourth place and four points off new leaders Inter. To give that some context, had Napoli beaten the Nerazzurri just four weeks ago, they would have been 10 points clear of the champions.
With AC Milan up next, Napoli simply cannot afford another defeat and there is a sense that a loss at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza could be a fatal blow to their title aspirations. Although they may only end next weekend seven points adrift, the complete lack of momentum at the Maradona has seen their Scudetto charge stall and it’s showing little sign of spluttering back into life.
Against Empoli, Spalletti’s side looked short of confidence and were reeling from the absences of key men in Kalidou Koulibaly and Victor Osimhen. Meanwhile, Lorenzo Insigne was forced back into the fray ahead of schedule from his injury after Piotr Zielinski went off with breathing difficulties after only 20 minutes.
Similarly, a late knock to Elif Elmas only compounded Napoli’s misery as they struggled on without fellow midfielders Fabian Ruiz and Stanislav Lobotka, with the growing injury list becoming increasingly concerning.
Whilst Napoli had not been the overwhelming favourites to snatch the Scudetto before a ball had been kicked in August, their dazzling start offered their best opportunity to win the title in years, perhaps even more so than in 2018 when they were edged out by Juventus despite earning 91 points. This mid-season slump may well prove particularly costly come May.