Having won the first leg 2-0 at the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli had to make sure they did not change their style of play to match a supposedly different approach from Nice.
Their short passing was everything Nice did not want, considering the home team had only one touch in Napoli’s box by half-time, according to Opta.
Wesley Sneijder and Mario Balotelli, who both missed the game in Naples, were in the starting XI for this clash. Rather expectedly, Maurizio Sarri kept his 4-3-3 formation, allowing the forward line and midfield to form one six-man barrier high up the pitch.
The Partenopei were aware of Balotelli’s presence early on, playing a high-line, which meant seeing less of the ball and allowing Nice to play their game.
Napoli’s main cause for concern was their full-backs becoming too tight with their centre-halves, especially Elseid Hysaj, though their three-way corner kick technique opened up more chances in the game.
Speaking of the aforementioned Hysaj, the Albanian needs to be much more aware of his positioning up against quick wingers. Allen Saint-Maximin had the 23-year-old on toast for much of the first-half, and had the right-back just closed his angles more, it could have made the marking of the Frenchman more achievable.
Regardless of this, Napoli were in control of the match. Through balls and speed were the away side’s best bets at grabbing the first goal. The front three kept Nice’s back four on their toes, waiting for any slip up, but not for the chance to come their way flat-out and rather to do it themselves.
The tie was done thanks to Jose Callejon after 120 seconds in the second-half. Marek Hamsik’s brilliant low-driven cross met by the sweeping finish of the Spaniard meant Nice needed four.
Callejon’s first-time effort also meant the visitors scored their 21st consecutive away goal, a not-so meaningless fact due to the ever-present importance the aggregate result.
The 40-odd minutes of football that followed were a showcase of a very astute performance. Quick on the counter yet reserved in their formation, Napoli portrayed exactly the type of football that can see them do well in both Serie A and in Europe.
That being said, Lorenzo Insigne had multiple opportunities to add more, finally scoring a fine chance late on. Regardless of the goal, the Italian needed to pick out the passing option better for not only much of this game, but both matches.
Being more aware of his surroundings when up against tougher opposition is integral. A chance against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu missed is far costlier than missing one away to Benevento at the Stadio Ciro Vigorito.
Yet, what Napoli must do now is build on this success. There is nothing minor about this victory over Nice, considering their last play-off to make the Champions League Group Stages saw Athletic Bilbao win 4-2 on aggregate.
There is of course no bonus from this win. This qualification should’ve been a formality for Napoli, but beating a competent side could give them some edge going into the groups. Making the next step of the competition should be a must, regardless of whether it is via the play-offs or automatically.
By beating Nice, Napoli have given themselves a proper chance at European football yet again. Forget finishing third and dropping down into the Europa League, they need to qualify for the knockout rounds and help Juventus carry the Italian torch in Europe.