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Friday November 3 2017
Napoli's Euro deja vu

Napoli's 4-2 defeat to Manchester City eerily mirrored last year's Real Madrid match and proved the same problems remain, argues Emmet Gates.

As Raheem Sterling arrowed his shot into the bottom right hand corner of Pepe Reina’s goal at the San Paolo, there was a certain sense of déjà vu about the outcome of the match. We had seen this play out before.

Much of the criticism levelled at the group stage of the Champions League has been justified in recent years. The dearth of interesting matches in the earliest rounds and the general procession-like feel to many of the groups has resulted in declining television ratings. The two clashes between Napoli and Man City, however, have been games for the purists, with both teams showcasing the very best of what the competition ought to be about.

From a Neapolitan perspective, there was a lot to admire in how Maurizio Sarri’s men caused City more problems over the course of the two games than any other side - and many who have transfer budgets twice or thrice the size of Napoli’s – has managed this season.

City couldn’t live with Napoli’s intense pressing and intricate short passing in the opening half-hour, a rare feeling for a Pep Guardiola team. Lorenzo Insigne’s sumptuously worked goal was their just reward for how good Sarri’s tactical plan was. Do unto City as they do unto others.

Yet it mirrored previous European games from Napoli’s recent past, once the tempo inevitably slowed and City started to see more of the ball and dictate play, Napoli failed to remain solid under attack.

This game had echoes of last season’s home match against Real Madrid: a lightening start, a superb goal, failure to increase the lead whilst dominant, concede from a corner, pile forward in search of goals and get hit on the counter. It was uncanny how much these nights, eight months apart, resembled each other.

For Sergio Ramos, see John Stones. For Alvaro Morata, see Sergio Aguero.

In the aftermath of the game, Sarri commented on Napoli’s lack of height throughout the team, and their vulnerability at set pieces. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, it doesn’t take away from the fact that when not in possession, defensively they fail to weather the storm. The frailties at the back that were evidenced last season still haven’t been rectified.

Even the key turning point in the game, the injury of the brilliant Faouzi Ghoulam (that has now been confirmed as a rupture of his ACL), has shades of yesteryear about it. Napoli failed to regain their composure following his substitution and therefore lost all their momentum.

This was reminiscent of Napoli’s second leg clash with Chelsea some five-and-a-half years ago. Having won the first leg 3-1 in Naples, they travelled to Stamford Bridge with one foot in the quarter-final. Christian Maggio, a key component in Walter Mazzarri’s 3-5-2 system, went off injured and Napoli promptly fell apart, eliminated 5-4 on aggregate. Ironically, it was Maggio who replaced Ghoulam against Chelsea.

Whilst there’s no correlation between the coaching ideals of Sarri and Mazzarri, it speaks to a continual weakness in their game: if something unexpectedly derails their flow, they cannot recover from it.

Napoli are now in a position where qualification to the knockout round is out of their hands, yet relegation to the Europa League should not be viewed as the burden many see it as.

A deep run in that competition would give Sarri’s men further European experience, a chance to refine their game and iron out the defensive kinks that have cost them time and again when dealing with some of Europe’s elite.

It remains to be seen whether Sarri will grasp that opportunity. Serie A is clearly the objective this season with the real belief that they can win their first league title for 28 years.

Have your say...
Napoli are the Italian Arsenal. Play pretty football but don't win the league or get past the big teams in Europe.
on the 5th November, 2017 at 5:43am
The team is completely unbalanced by concentrating all attacks on the left, Sarri's fundamentalism is the biggest factor, always giving 1-3 players to the opposition, and never make a change before the 70th minute. Without the ball Napoli is shaky, and when in possession, they faff around too much with the ball, and are very slow in launching attacks, they become very predictable. ADL pre-match defeatist declarations do not help either. What a waste... we lack the pragmatism of Spalletti to kill games
on the 5th November, 2017 at 3:09am
Deja vu indeed. We'll wait and see how long they last in the league, probably till early spring again. Ghoulam's injury is unfortunate, but also perhaps another sign Napoli falters again sooner than later.

No matter how strong the teams they've faced in their group, failing to draw once and being outscored when your only plan is to outscore is a managerial failure. Fatigue is a managerial failure. Sarri's style may be attractive but it's never effective. I'd worry more about Lazio+Roma.
on the 4th November, 2017 at 4:51pm
Anyone who is surprised by Napoli' CL was totally deluded in the first place. Juve wont last much longer and Roma is only a matter of time before they fall over too.
Serie A need reform until then we will suffer.
on the 4th November, 2017 at 12:04am
Napoli are a joke. They are treating the CL like an inconvenience because they aren't good enough. A bunch of embarrassing pretenders. Oh well, they aren't really Italian anyway.
on the 3rd November, 2017 at 10:50pm
Now Roma lost to a lot of average team and were beaten neavily by the likes of Manchester and Bayern.

Napoli was the first Italian team in years to get out of qualifiers.

The vias is ridiclous. Yes the team lacks depth. But that is not the crime of Sarrimor the players and no reason to attack them.

Attack ADL if you want. But not the club.
on the 3rd November, 2017 at 8:18pm
How did Napoli embarass Serie A? Won their CL group last year and lost to winners Real. The year before they were the only team to win all 6 EL games and the year before that they went to the EL semi finals losing because of two disallowed goals. Prior to that they became the only team to not qualify with 12 points in a group with Dortmund and Arsenal at their height and before that qualified ahead ofCity in a group with Bayern and Villareal. This year they beat Nice twice and are still in it
on the 3rd November, 2017 at 8:16pm
No surprise, and a non story. People laugh at Juve losing FINALS, but we have a very strong history of beating the top teams during 2 legged knock out matches. So we actually class up with these teams. Napoli are sad pretenders, who haven't been a serious round of 16 team ever.
on the 3rd November, 2017 at 7:30pm
An embarrassment to Italian football. They rest their best players and save them to play SPAL while shaming Italian football against likes of Shakhtar!
Napoli has been getting a European spot and wasting it for the past couple of years. They don't have the necessary depth to compete in Europe. Roma, Inter, and Milan all have stronger benches. I hope that they don't win Serie A cause I do not want another embarrassment in Europe next year as the champions of Italy!
on the 3rd November, 2017 at 4:51pm
Napoli do not have the depth to compete in two competitions. Despite everyone talking them up, their biggest games prior to Man City was a narrow 1-0 win against Roma and a 0-0 draw against Inter. Do those sound like the results of a top team? Sarri is working miracles with his squad and it would be special if they won Serie A. Despite that, it's ridiculous to classify them as a top club because they're nowhere close to that.

It was expectations that "derailed their flow", not Ghoulam's injury
on the 3rd November, 2017 at 2:20pm

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