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Sunday October 15 2017
Napoli learning new tricks

Napoli's victory at Roma showed Maurizio Sarri's men have other skills to draw from, including a strong defence and mentality, writes Billy Wilkinson.

With Lazio snatching a shock win at the Juventus Stadium just before kick-off at the Stadio Olimpico, the lights had become all the more intense as Napoli took on Roma. There’s old age wisdom of ‘winning DNA’ in football. The top clubs all have it, when the lights are the brightest and the crowd are the loudest, they aren’t afraid because they’ve been in this position before.

The criticism that Napoli shrink when the chips are down has been around since their inception, in fact it’s a criticism that’s existed for every club in Italy aside from the Milanese sides and Juventus. For Napoli however, that criticism is being torn apart as the Maurizio Sarri era rolls on.

In Sarri’s first season it was a tale of two halves. They had some signature big game wins, including 5-0 against Lazio, 4-0 away at San Siro against Milan, even 2-1 wins over Inter and Juve.

However, following a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss against eventual winners Juventus courtesy of a Simone Zaza rocket in February, the Partenopei drew to Milan and Fiorentina in consecutive weeks, as the title slipped from their grasp. A 2-0 loss at the hands of Inter and 1-0 to Spalletti’s Roma later in the season would all but shatter their Scudetto hopes.

However, this time feels different for two main reasons, the first being experience. Sarri and his side know not to get ahead of themselves in big games, as their feet seemed to go off the gas pedal in 2016 against the Bianconeri as the night dragged on. They also now have the experience to be able to put big losses behind them.

Last season, despite some poor showings in big games early on as opposed to later in the season (3-1 loss to Roma and 2-1 to Juventus), they weren’t deterred and didn’t lose to any of the big seven in the second half of the campaign. In fact, they would’ve beaten them all if not for a draw v Juve. It’s a nous that comes with experiencing big games and how you react to them.

The second is talent. This 2017-18 Napoli side is so much more talented than its predecessors. Every single player has improved under Sarri, the team know his system inside and out, and there’s a lot more depth on the bench.

In the second half of 2015-16, Sarri didn’t rotate properly and the team was burnt out by February, and it showed as their results slowed down. This team is prepared, so with mind-boggling depth in midfield and respectable choices in defence (although a new winger may be required in January) Napoli can survive.

Napoli’s two big games so far this season, against Lazio and Roma, have been different in manner, but the same in essence.

Against the Biancocelesti their resolve was tested when they went 1-0 down in the first half. However, in the second they scored a jaw dropping three goals in five minutes, each better than the last, including an insane outside of the box lob from Dries Mertens. In added time Jorginho made it 4-1, but the statement was still there. This Napoli side won’t wobble when the lights are bright.

Against Di Francesco’s side it was actually the sort of performance we don’t associate with Sarri or ‘flair’ teams. Granted there was a bit of luck with Insigne’s goal, or you could argue it’s just poor from Daniele De Rossi, but it was on the defensive side of the ball where Napoli excelled.

Roma barely had a sniff all game. Their best chance came in the form of a header from near the penalty spot, which was batted away by a scrambling Pepe Reina. The Giallorossi didn’t even have a shot on target until the 70th minute.

Usually Napoli defend through their attack constantly pressuring the entirety of their opposition. But this game showed that when the Napoli offensive isn’t clicking as expected, the defence is capable of shutting out top teams.

Next week Napoli will be able to flex their new-found confidence in big games against Manchester City and Inter. It seems like it’ll be another notch on their belt leading to lights being brighter and crowds being louder, but they won’t care. 

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Have your say...
Roma players made themselves like real madrid ,they have forgotten the basic of how to win a game in football,wich is simply play on the pitch not waiting for the ref to give you away penalty.desreved win for the neopolitans .
on the 15th October, 2017 at 8:37pm
Great result for Napoli. Better to beat Inter than Man City. League more important that champions league.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 5:29pm
Hook or crook? Ma please juve know a thing or two about that getting penalty calls in 95 minute all the time, to bad they can't covert them.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 4:03pm
If Napoli is able to win the Scudetto this season it would catapult the club upwards. Big players would be interested in signing for Napoli and Sarri.
Title or not, I fear Mertens, Ghoulam, and possibly Koulibaly will hard to hang onto next summer. Mertens has a release clause but the other 2 should be kept at all costs.
Next summer, depending on who leaves the club, Napoli should target Chiesa, Alex Ferrari, Perin, Darmian, and if Mertens leaves... Immobile! He's Neapolitan.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 3:53pm
The midweek CL game will be a huge test of Napoli's questionable defense and keeper, especially with Koulibaly out as well.

Hopefully they can grab at least 2 or 3 points against MC over the two games, otherwise they are in serious trouble.

Then again, I think they'd drop Europe in a flash this season in exchange for a league title.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 12:34pm
In addition reina was excellent against roma he actually starting to show that he can rise to the occasion and make the vital save not make the stupid mistake. As a neutral i was often left perplexed why napoli persisted with this keeper for me has been a liability since his liverpool days. I guess this could his season to show everyone that he is a top quality keeper.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 10:34am
It was the kind of performance which would encourage any napoli about their tittle challenge not only did they show usual flair but grit to get the result. Napoli problems for me really will pick up in the coming months having to play in the league and Europe with only mertens available up front is a big ask. The work rate as well must be taking a toll sarri tends to stick with the same 11 he really is going to have to rotate his players in order to maintain this pace and effort.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 10:23am
Yeah they learnt how to score a super lucky goal, assisted by the opposition. Meanwhile we have a very dubious penalty given against us as always.this year I guarantee you Napoli will win by hook or by crook just to have a different team win the league.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 9:37am
Apology accepted CG :)
on the 15th October, 2017 at 9:07am
I have previously insulted Napoli and called them mere provincial pizza makers who don't belong at the heights of Serie A, and I extend my sincerest apologies to the team and to all Napoli fans. I am a hardcore Juve fan, but Napoli deserve the scudetto this season. Good luck. Juve's run is over. And it would be encouraging if we could target the Champ League, but we just don't have the squad or the manager.
on the 15th October, 2017 at 8:01am

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