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Sunday January 8 2017
Napoli out of tune

On a cold night in Naples, Maurizio Sarri’s players were all dancing to the beat of their own drum, notes Gaby McKay.

The difficult second album. A band or an artist makes their statement, all the things they ever wanted to say, and then they have to follow it up. Where do you go when you’re already at the top? That appears to be the question facing Maurizio Sarri and Napoli this season.

Sarri’s humble beginnings are well-known, the Coach having gone from working in a bank to taking charge of one of Serie A’s biggest teams. Last season felt like a watershed moment for the tactician, where finally he was allowed to put his ideas to the test on the biggest stage of all.

The results were spectacular, with the chain-smoking boss leading a Scudetto challenge which, although ultimately thwarted, offered hope of a bright new dawn for the Partenopei. But everyone knows that the sequel is never quite as good…

If 2015-16 was Maurizio Sarri’s ‘The Stone Roses’, then 2016-17 is increasingly coming to resemble his ‘Second Coming’. Napoli haven’t been bad this season, far from it, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that there’s some vital piece of chemistry missing. Sure, ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ was good, but it wasn’t ‘I Am The Resurrection’.

It’s not the absence of Gonzalo Higuain - Sarri’s side have scored more than anyone else in Serie A. And it’s not that their remaining stars haven’t turned up - a look at Dries Mertens’ form would tell you that. For whatever reason though, the Partenopei just aren’t the same team this season.

Napoli may have beaten Sampdoria, but even the most dyed-in-the-wool fan couldn’t argue that they were convincing. This is not to indulge Massimo Ferrero’s conspiracy theories; the hosts dominated the match almost from start to finish. But whereas last season one would have backed Napoli to make a comeback after Elseid Hysaj’s unfortunate own-goal, last night’s match could, and probably would, have been different were it not for the bizarre red card given to Matias Silvestre.

Even when the visitors went down to 10 men, the Partenopei struggled. Silvestre’s dismissal came at the right time, just as the Neapolitans were under pressure, and the fans were starting to feel it.

Jorginho, so reliable last season, began to misplace passes. Lorenzo Insigne, former darling of the San Paolo crowd, drew groans instead of cheers. It was indicative of the campaign so far: neither man has had a bad season, but nor have they managed to recapture the form of the last campaign.

It was left to the forgotten man - the Bez of Naples, if you’ll allow the mixing of Madchester metaphors - to rescue the day for Napoli. Manolo Gabbiadini, almost certain to leave this month, was summoned from the bench to inject a spark of invention.

In truth, the forward’s equalising goal was more improvisation than invention, but it gave Napoli the belief they needed to overcome the 10 men. Debutant Lorenzo Tonelli’s late goal was dramatic, but ultimately his side deserved the result.

Despite the victory though, Sarri’s side seem like 11 men playing the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. It’s hard to single out a Napoli player as underperforming, but the cohesion of last year appears to be lacking. Passes were sent to spaces where a teammate was supposed to be, but found only emptiness, while numerous crosses that would’ve been perfect for Arkadiusz Milik soared over the head of Mertens. The moves weren’t bad ideas per se, but everyone seemed to be playing to the beat of their own drum.

In the end, that’s the issue with the Partenopei. On top form Sarri’s men can beat anyone, including Real Madrid in the Champions League. But with 11 men playing their own song, Napoli remain a talented supergroup rather than a real band.

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Have your say...
Also let e say, this time last year Napoli vs Juve took place, juver were 2-1 up, Buffon dropped the ball and Koulibally kocked it in, the goal was disallowed because Buffon dived to the ground and faked a foul. Where were the calls of Buffon is a disgrace? Where was the media attack on Buffon for a week? Italian football is the pits. Fron Tavecchio to Juve to its media supporting journos.
on the 12th January, 2017 at 3:53pm
This article is pointless, how many times have Juve looked rubbing or unconvincing? Pretty much for the whole season. So why this article after 1 game in 2017?
on the 12th January, 2017 at 3:46pm
I'm not from Manchester either and I have heard of the Stone Roses.

Maradonamac clearly just gets annoyed when people know more about music than him.

Agree that the article might have been slightly harsh on Napoli, but the Roses are great!
on the 9th January, 2017 at 5:27pm
@Maradonamac - Please name a 'proper band' that would fit this analogy. So amazing first album only to trip up on the second season.

Personally I think they are doing quite well this season, all things considered. So the Stone Roses analogy doesn't quite fit for that reason. Also I completely disagree about them not being a proper band and I am not from Manchester or the UK...
on the 9th January, 2017 at 3:59pm
Stop making sense Maradonamac
on the 9th January, 2017 at 2:42pm
Napoli has been out of tune since the end of last season and it has nothing to do with Higuain or any other player per se. Even though Napoli has been GREAT this season and has played beautifully also scored most goals in Serie A there is something different and anyone who has watched last season and this season will be able to see it I hope they can overcome Real although going into that encounter i would be more confident with last seasons Napoli than with this years.
on the 8th January, 2017 at 11:16pm
Also Gaby, The Stone Roses? What kind of a Micky Mouse reference is that. At least name a proper band, and actually one that people outside of Manchester have heard of.
on the 8th January, 2017 at 10:44pm
Yes, Reina should be embarrassed not only for faking an injury, but for also fumbling the ball between the two players in the first place.

He's too comfortable, and understandably if you don't have real competition then how do you raise your game. He's cost us at least 2 wins this season, and it's time for Sarri to be more ruthless here.

Some people love to call out Insgne on these posts, but by far our worst player is Reina.
on the 8th January, 2017 at 8:36pm
They must be doing something right! 3rd in league n topped their CL group! After losing Higuain n having bad luck with injuries too. They always say 'it's a good team that can win while playing badly' n Napoli did that last night. You can't win every game 5-3 or 4-1! Probably not used to unseasonable cold n bad pitch, ha ha. Not to mention they have just had a break.
on the 8th January, 2017 at 4:51pm
Reina should be ashamed of himself for throwing himself to the ground like that AND the feeble excuse for a referee was not even looking. Until there is retrospective punishment this kind of thing will continue unfortunately.
on the 8th January, 2017 at 8:45am
Ahh yes its transfer season. Time for the Juventus writers to vomit out their bi-annual screeds about how bad the other sides are. Looking forward to the articles that will soon show up in the Roma, Inter, and Milan subsites this week.
on the 8th January, 2017 at 4:40am
I read the article 3 times, and still can't help but feel it's one of the strangest articles I've read in recent times.

Yes, Napoli didn't perform as well as they have done in the last 2 months, were they have been very, very good. They have been lauded by everyone from Sacchi to Lippi for playing Italy's best football. Prandelli thinks they can beat Madrid. Now all of a sudden they're 11 individuals who ain't got a clue?

The pitch was awful for a team who like the ball moving fast. Simple.
on the 8th January, 2017 at 3:01am

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