Serie A - Napoli top as Cavani blows Milan away
Edinson Cavani scored a superb hat-trick as Napoli came from behind to beat Milan 3-1 in a manic clash at San Paolo, putting them joint-top of the nascent Serie A table while leaving the stuttering champions without a win this season.
After Alberto Aquilani gave an injury-ravaged Rossoneri an early lead, Napoli hit back immediately as Cavani poached the first of his three goals.
With both sides exchanging chances at will, the Uruguay striker then hit a wondrous curler before a belting drive made certain that the visitors would leave with only their second defeat of 2011.
Massimiliano Allegri was without several key players - Robinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini were all injured - but Napoli were superb on the counter attack, with Cavani ably supported by a buzzing midfield.
Both sides could have suffered from a Champions League hangover after tough away draws at Manchester City and Barcelona, but the encounter was anything but sluggish.
An entertaining and at times frantic first half saw Milan start the better and they took the lead on 18 minutes.
It was a great goal, too: Antonio Cassano put in a pinpoint cross from the right that Aquilani met with a thunderous diving header from just inside the penalty area. It flew into the top-left corner.
Napoli responded immediately when Ezequiel Lavezzi curled in a superb free-kick that Christian Maggio met with a downward header, with Cavani on hand to bury a low finish through Christian Abbiati’s legs.
Cavani then had a great chance to get his second goal but miscontrolled when Andrea Dossena found him on the edge of the six-yard box.
The next opportunity that came to the Uruguayan was taken though, and in some style: a rapid counter attack was led by Walter Gargano, who ran from halfway before sliding a ball wide to Cavani.
From the left flank ‘El Matador’ had it all to do, but he reacted with a wonderful curling effort that flew past Abbiati and inside the far post.
It was a fine goal, and it almost drew an immediate response, De Sanctis making a superb low save to deny Aquilani a second goal after he was played through by Cassano.
Aquilani was the danger man for Milan, and just before the break he fizzed a long-range drive just wide, with Napoli ultimately fortunate to go in ahead.
Milan again started the second half well, but for all their possession they were unable to create any clear-cut opportunities.
And Napoli punished them with their first real attack as - after Abbiati had done well to deny Marek Hamsik - the Rossoneri failed to clear their lines, with a Maggio cross ricocheting off Alessandro Nesta into the path of Cavani, who lashed home a vicious finish to complete his hat-trick.
Milan’s night was summed up soon afterwards when Alexandre Pato - utterly unplayable against Barcelona but largely anonymous in Naples - was booked for diving.
They were desperately trying to work themselves back into the game but Napoli's superior pace allowed them to sit back, break up the play and look for the counter attack.
Legendary Rossoneri defender Nesta was lucky not to be sent off for kicking out and then manhandling Salvatore Aronica, while when they did get half-chances - such as when De Sanctis dropped Clarence Seedorf’s free-kick - they were unable to capitalise.
Milan were riding their luck though: Nocerino - who was fortunate not to be sent off earlier for a two-footed lunge at Lavezzi - should have received a second yellow for a late tackle on Cavani.
Pato got another rare touch, heading well over after a good piece of wing-play by Cassano, but Milan seemed to have given up on the fightback and the latter stages saw Lavezzi and substitute Blerim Dzemaili - he of the failed stint at Bolton - go close with long-range efforts.
There was a half-chance for Pato, who was still on the pitch despite his limited impact, but Aronica was aware to hook the ball away after a great first touch from the Brazilian.
The same player almost found Cassano with a clever run and pass from the left, but Paolo Cannavaro remained alert to clear, while there was a scare from De Sanctis as he again spilled the ball: substitute Juan Zuniga was on hand to clear.
It was too little too late from the Rossoneri though as they failed to find a way back into the match, Napoli holding on comfortably to make it two wins out of two. They are joint top with Juventus and Udinese, level on goal difference but with more scored; Milan, meanwhile, stay in the bottom half without a league win this season.