Uncaged Gonzalo Higuain delivers on Rafael Benitez goals demand
Coach Rafael Benitez believes Napoli have sent "an important signal" after striker Gonzalo Higuain ended his Serie A goal droughts with a hat-trick in a 6-2 win over Verona on Sunday.
Naples: Coach Rafael Benitez believes Napoli have sent "an important signal" after striker Gonzalo Higuain ended his Serie A goal droughts with a hat-trick in a 6-2 win over Verona on Sunday.
Higuain had been goalless in seven previous league outings for the Azzurri and his frustration grew earlier this week when Napoli suffered a 2-0 Europa League defeat to Young Boys in Berne.
Benitez on Friday compared Higuain to a "lion in a cage" and advised the Argentina striker: "Instead of getting angry, go out and score three goals."
Higuain duly complied, hitting a hat-trick, including an injury-time penalty, with Marek Hamsik also getting off the mark with a well-struck brace to help move Napoli up to seventh place, eight points behind leaders Juventus.
Benitez joked after the match: "We let Higuain out of the cage tonight, so we can put him away again until Wednesday."
Ahead of Wednesday`s trip to Atalanta, Benitez believes Napoli`s shaky start to the season is now firmly behind them.
"I think this game sent an important signal of what the team can do," said Benitez, who came under criticism for a defeat in Berne when Hamsik and Higuain started on the bench.
After the defeat, Napoli`s team bus came under attack from fans angry at Benitez`s rotation policy.
"I have to point out that we have a great squad and we have to be able to use all the players in Serie A and the Europa League.
"Tonight was the right time to let the players relax and concentrate on the game."
Napoli got off to the worst possible start when Iceland international Emil Hallfredsson beat Rafael with a volley after just 30 seconds.
But the hosts regrouped and on the stroke of half-time Hamsik opened his account before completing his brace to give Napoli a 2-1 lead in the 58th minute.
Verona were given brief hope when Nico Lopez came off the bench and moments later dribbled around both David Lopez and Kalidou Koulibaly to beat Rafael at his near post.
But the floodgates truly opened after Higuain ran on to a poor Panagiotis Tachtsidis backpass a minute later to beat Rafael Andrade.
Jose Callejon, who hit a brace in the 2-2 draw with Inter last week, grabbed a table-topping seventh goal of the campaign on 75 minutes and Higuain grabbed his second when he tapped home Raul Albiol`s square ball six minutes from time.
The Argentinian should have earned his hat-trick moments later after beating Andrade but was harshly flagged offside.
Higuain secured his hat-trick a minute into injury-time after beating Andrade from the penalty spot after Hallfredsson brought down Dries Mertens in the area.