Last weekend the top four faced off with leaders Juventus and third-placed Napoli beating Fiorentina and Roma 1-0 respectively. For Coach Antonio Conte’s Juve it was almost a run of the mill win. Despite their victory Napoli found thatthe truth, like Pavarotti in a narrow corridor, was impossible to avoid as once again they showed their limitations. Yet if they want to overtake Roma and grab that automatic Champions League spot, they need to be as merciless as Conte and co.
The Bianconeri realised last October that they had to up the ante after losing 4-2 to sixth-placed Fiorentina to stay third, five points behind the then leaders Roma. Yet it wasn’t so much the defeat but more its nature that woke them up and since then they have set the pace and shown the rest of Serie A how to succeed.
Whether they score in the last minute or narrowly win 1-0, they know how to grab the points. Sometimes it’s with grace and subtlety, sometime it’s ugly, but the bottom line is that they win, whatever it takes. Last Sunday, the performance against Fiorentina was hardly convincing, but as usual it was a perfect example of this ability to succeed. As we all know, these are no flash in the pan victories.
Their superiority over the last two years was not built wholly on tactics and technical improvement. It has also been down to the winning mentality Conte imparts. This is the real building block that has delivered two successive Scudetti as Conte turned Juve into the sort of team he inspired in his playing days. This season especially, their grit and sheer doggedness in defence has served them well and this is what the Partenopei urgently need to copy.
The Vesuviani have failed miserably against teams they should be sweeping aside, drawing 1-1 with bottom of the table Sassuolo was a fine example, especially as the visitors had been hammered by Inter 7-0 just days earlier. Look no further than Bologna’s 90th minute sucker punch in the 2-2 draw. Think back to the disappointing defeats to Parma and Atalanta or the recent series of tiresome 1-1 draws at home with Genoa and Chievo, or Cagliari and Livorno away.
Coach Rafa Benitez is aware of the problem and in a massive understatement after the Roma game claimed Napoli had played better in the past, but still lost. “Today we wanted to win and we did it, maybe that’s what counts at this point,” said the Spaniard. “We’ve seen many games that Napoli played well and didn’t win.”
It certainly is what counts at this point and Napoli, like Juve do when necessary, need to forget playing well and start winning ugly, beginning with Torino on Monday.
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