Napoli followed up their Supercoppa victory over Juventus with a convincing 4-1 win over bottom side Cesena at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi. Rafael Benitez guided his Azzurri side to a penalty shoot-out triumph over the reigning Serie A champions shortly before Christmas in Qatar, giving his title-chasing team a welcome morale-boost. On their return to league action they dominated the first half in Emilia-Romagna and well-taken goals from Jose Callejon and Gonzalo Higuain meant Cesena faced a tough task after the break. The club that slipped into 20th place when Parma beat Fiorentina earlier on Tuesday were unable to resist as Marek Hamsik pushed Napoli three goals clear before Higuain converted his second. Cesena did pull a goal back through Franco Brienza, but at full-time they found themselves seven points shy of safety. Napoli, meanwhile, are now level on 30 points with third-placed Lazio. Still buoyed by their triumph in Doha, the southerners started enthusiastically and Higuain saw a very early shot deflected just wide for a corner. Nicola Leali had to smother Jonathan de Guzman's first-time effort in the sixth minute but Cesena soon pushed back and went close to opening the scoring. When Antonio Mazzotta picked out Brienza in the centre of the area only a smart save from Rafael denied the former Palermo midfielder a headed goal. The Seahorses could not build on that near miss, however, and conceded in the 29th minute. Higuain, breaking into the box from the left, tried to feed the ball to Hamsik and, after Cesena's defence made a hash of the clearance, Callejon swept in to beat Leali with his right boot. Napoli would take a two-goal lead into the break thanks to Higuain. The Argentinian was in the right place to gather Hamsik's through-ball and he coolly beat the offside trap and then Leali to register his eighth league goal of the season. When play resumed after the break it looked like Cesena might be ready to fight back as Brienza forced Christian Maggio into a desperate block. But it was a false dawn for Domenico Di Carlo's side, who soon shipped two more goals. Napoli's third was scored by Hamsik in the 64th minute – the Slovakian blasted both the ball and defender Daniele Capelli into the net with a powerful drive. Eight minutes later Higuain doubled his own tally after collecting Dries Mertens' pass and dribbling beyond Mazzotta before slotting home. With Napoli raiding forward at will they did risk leaving a gap in their defence and Cesena were able to notch a consolation goal in the 75th minute. Ze Eduardo picked out Brienza with a free-kick and the latter duly volleyed the ball beyond Rafael with his left boot, but the game had already been lost.
Football SERIE A