You’d be hard pressed to find much interest directed towards Napoli’s mid-week banker against Dutch Champions Feyenoord. News of Arek Milik’s second ACL injury grabbed the headlines instead, for all the wrong reasons. Disappointment over the Pole’s injury hung over the San Paolo, pulling on the Partenopei’s heart strings, distracting attention and issuing a stark reminder that sometimes human goodwill transcends football.
As if he had to endear himself to fans anymore, Insigne’s unfeigned gesture to hold up the injured Milik’s shirt was ill-fated when he actually held up Piotr Zielinski’s shirt instead. Luckily the Italian saw the funny side, whilst Zielinski frantically searched for the correct shirt. This summed up Napoli perfectly; for all their entertainment, they are still prone to making a pig’s ear of things.
Napoli’s on-field performance was one which we have come to expect. Fluidity and fluency, combined with individual brilliance helped stifle any Feyenoord threat. However, Sofyan Amrabat’s consolation goal denied Pepe Reina a much-needed clean sheet, even after he'd parried a penalty, and allowed a lingering feeling of worry to seep in before their showdown with Manchester City.
Napoli travel to Manchester on October 17, in a clash which will most likely decide the group winner. City’s sheer firepower rivals the best European football has to offer, and Amrabat leaves the Partenopei brooding over whether their tendency for mental lapses will be costlier against Pep Guardiola’s men. After last night’s results, Napoli are 21/4 for a victory and City odds against on 888sport.
Manchester City manager Guardiola stated that Napoli are one of the “three, four best teams in the world,” which is high praise indeed, even given Guardiola’s penchant for hyperbole.
On their day, which is very nearly every day, Napoli play one of the most full-throttle, thrilling attacking styles on the planet, and you’d be hard pressed to find an opinion otherwise. But as was the case in their first match against Shakhtar Donetsk, they are still not the finished article, and it could be argued that the way Sarri plays is a double-edged sword.
Sarri is untouchable in Italy at the moment, and rightly so. Nevertheless, no amount of goals will fix Napoli’s defensive vulnerability, and if Sarri continues to sacrifice defensive consolidation for free-flowing football, it does little to suggest the Partenopei won’t fall by the wayside when they face a more structured, adaptable team. If he is to carry Naples to the latter stages of the Champions League, he must find a solution, and fast.
Much like Napoli, Manchester City’s fluid attacking unit is their strength, and their defence is also their Achilles Heel. Napoli may feel quietly confident that they will be able to expose Guardiola’s backline, but there is little to suggest that taking the attitude of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ will be useful if Napoli go deeper into the tournament.
The jury was out on Napoli’s exit from the Champions League last season. They weren’t ready, or mature enough to see off eventual winners Real Madrid, and no one begrudged them that. The heat was off a Coach debuting in the Champions league with a youthful side, inexperienced in European competition. However, the knives may begin to creep out should Napoli fail to switch up their game and learn from their mistakes when it matters most.
If there was any indication of the kind of night it was for Napoli, Sarri ineloquently provided one. After Amrabat slotted home Feyenoord’s single goal to dirty Napoli’s clean sheet, the Coach proceeded to repeatedly punch the wall of his team dugout in pure frustration. Napoli may have been good enough for the three points, but they may not be good enough when it matters.