Tuesday November 21 2017
Napoli's Trojan Horse

Napoli beat Shakhtar Donetsk to keep their Champions League hopes alive, but Richard Hall wonders if they really want a place in the Round of 16?

The San Paolo is always going to make noise and tonight was no different despite only 15,000 attending Napoli’s crucial Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk. In fairness, the game was free on local television, but the absence of the crowd perhaps symbolised the enthusiasm for winning the Scudetto over progress in Europe’s premier competition.

Napoli would make it look easy in the end, despite a poor first half, but is qualification worth it? It could easily be a glittering prize that turns out to bite them, it could be their Trojan horse.

In the build up to the game against Shakhtar Donetsk, Maurizio Sarri referred to the fixture as one of the biggest games of the Partenopei’s season. He understood anything less than a victory would knock them out of the Champions League.

The campaign had not gone smoothly and, despite the Azzurri’s electric Serie A form that has seen them win 11 and draw just two, this so far hasn’t translated on to the European stage. Defeat in Ukraine and two entertaining but ultimately fruitless matches against Manchester City, meant that they were on the verge of going out.

Whilst they knew they only had a small chance of success. Sarri was determined that his team should not be eliminated without giving everything. By his own admission, the Coach underestimated the Ukrainians in the opening match, but was now aware of their frightening counter-attack.

Napoli in truth were lethargic and, despite creating some half chances, rode out the first half in an unusual and unenthused manner. Perhaps it was the crowd, perhaps it was the realisation that they had little chance, but they went in at the break goalless and with a whimper.

The second half had more pace, but it took an incredible strike from Lorenzo Insigne, a good finish from Piotr Zielinski and a rare Dries Mertens header to finish Shakhtar off. This meant that Napoli would still have a chance of progress, but would this derail their Scudetto challenge?

For one thing, whilst Napoli’s squad is multi-talented, it is not the deepest in the league and the season still has a long way to go. Despite what Sarri may say, the Coach has learned from the lessons of Gonzalo Higuain, and cannot rely solely on one or two players.

Despite saying that Insigne is as important to Napoli as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are to their respective clubs and therefore cannot be rested, this may well be folly. Insigne has played in every game for the Neapolitans so far this campaign, but outside of the collective group of critical importance (Marek Hamsik, Mertens, Jose Callejon, Kalidou Koulibaly, Allan and Insigne) has Sarri really got the squad to go deep in the Champions League and compete in Serie A? Overplaying certain individuals may cost them and this again points at the concerns around a long European campaign.

Even in the game against Shakhtar, things were taking their toll as Koulibaly was suspended and Mario Rui was not fully fit. Napoli need to play with a cavalier attitude that demands collective hunting in packs and a utilitarian approach to defending. It is no surprise that their rivals Juventus have often struggled to play at 100 per cent in Serie A games after Champions League matches and it is only their superb squad depth (and in recent years the gap between them and the rest in the division) that has made them able to win games in second gear at times.

The Juventus analogy is an interesting one, because they are showing that even with their wealth of talent it may be a struggle to compete on two fronts this year. This could leave a door open in Naples and just think of that, a Scudetto going to Napoli, surely this is worth more than a deep run in a competition that they will no doubt qualify for next season? There is also Inter and Roma, after all.

Despite the victory, arguably Napoli do not need the Champions League. Their strength in depth is the main argument (but on the other side they may have fallen in to the Europa League) and the enthusiasm for the Scudetto over Europe’s most prestigious tournament it’s obvious in the city. The Neapolitans know that this is one of their biggest chances since the days of Diego Maradona to win the title they want so much and nothing, absolutely nothing, should get in the way of this.

Have your say...
I absolutely agree that Scudetto IS & MUST be No1 priority for Napoli. But giving up CL for it so soon? COmmon man - besides the financial benefit (which this year is around 50-60 mil. just to go through the group stage)that's sure as hell important for them, it's also their reputation! What's the point in giving up CL if they fell to EL and playing every Thursday again? Or they should give that one up too?!
EVEN ADL said it's important to finish 2nd, then we'll see what happens, Scudetto is No1
on the 27th November, 2017 at 10:12am
Yes yes, we've heard this all before. Then the real Juve shows up after December to claim what's theirs. Salute.
on the 25th November, 2017 at 9:26pm
DeLaurentis absolutely wants qualification. It means millions in TV and prize money, while he made 4.5 million Euros from ticket sales for the Real Madrid game. Supporters will pay the big money for a knockout game against a big team. Not for a group game with qualification uncertain
on the 24th November, 2017 at 9:56am
Tickets for Juventus are cheaper than for Shakhtar. 30 and 50 Euro on a Saturday night compared to 35 and 60 Euro on a Tuesday night for a game that might lead to nothing despite the win. DeLaurentis is a stubborn greedy man. Last year he charged 25 and 35 Euro for Empoli and the outcome was predictable - 15912.
Napoli is one of the poorest cities in Italy. 53609 turned up for Sassuolo when he reduced prices but just 36557 for Milan after another greedy attempt to rip off his own supporters
on the 24th November, 2017 at 9:50am
Richard, if you had done a little bit of research you would have discovered that greedy DeLaurentis charged 35 euro for the curvas and 60 Euro and up for the main stand, with his team longshots for qualification. It seems the only ones who went were those who bought reduced concession tickets. De Laurentis embarrassed himself and his club. For 20 Euro he could have sold out and made more money, as well as giving Napoli some glory rather than the world seeing an empty stadium
on the 24th November, 2017 at 9:42am
low attendance because for the following reasons:

- the game was broadcast 'live' on tv.
- tickets were expensive.
- Napoli is playing Juve next week in huge game and I'd imagaine fans would be prioritise attending that game ahead of the Shaktar game. (apparently already close to a sell out!!!)
- Low attendance is a subtle message from the fans saying 'We don't care about the CL', lets win the Scudetto first'!
on the 24th November, 2017 at 6:53am
Yes they want the UCL at least to keep finances running and build their reputation again.I live abroad in Palestine,I travelled a lot,abroad you only hear of the Milan clubs and Juve unless you were born in Maradona era you may know Napoli of the past.So yes they need it!Also the team must prove they are worthy champions of Serie A at all levels so the world know its not one lucky break.Napoli plays great football and I hope they become accustomed to pressure and success....Forza Napoli
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 9:38am
And lets not forget! 15k at the stadium?!? Shameful! Don't give me that: "It was on a Tuesday and tickets were expensive" excuse. European nights are known for their high attendance. Honestly, if Napoli fail to win the scudetto AND qualify for the rd of 16?1?! It would be the biggest fail. Sarri leaves and they have to start a new project. Mertens has a release clause and so does Ghoulam. Bye Bye! Enjoy the youtube videos of the drug addict Maradona.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 4:19am
They want to win the scudetto in the cheapest and most cowardly way possible. Roma's depth is less experienced and are under a new coach but you don't see them having that loser mentality. They lost to a hungry Atletico, in their new stadium fighting for their lives but Roma have put importance in this glorious competition.

If any other top team in Italy was to do what Napoli are doing, they would be mocked and if Napoli fail to win the scudetto? BAHAHA. Oh well, villagers gonna be villagers.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 4:13am
to maradonamac, what hes saying is lack of depth is gonnna hurt their scudetto chances, so if napoli would make champions, the first team players will be used more where as europa league you'd be more willing to start bench players in that competition to save your first team for serie a ... wrong way to think but unfortunately its true.. but with the qualification theres income and if the president is smart and proactive enough, hell use it to invest in january. NAPOLI SEMPRE
on the 22nd November, 2017 at 3:14pm
Equally you could argue napoli position in the group would put fans off attending the game. In any case i am sure this concern if it does exist is limited to the fans i can't imagine for 1 second that the napoli players would want to be out of the champions league especially after slogging it out against nice to get into the group phases.
on the 22nd November, 2017 at 3:00pm
Watched Napoli last night. Insigne was top draw, how he only played 12 minutes in first leg with swedan and not at all in second leg is a mystery, and when he did play was out of position. Was very impressed with Diawara, I like him a lot and think he would be a very useful player for Italy.
on the 22nd November, 2017 at 10:59am
I couldn't understand what Zielinski did (or did not at all, barely touching the ball) in a squad in a first half, but he got his second life of AM just after Allan came on as DM. Is Piotr to be classic 'No. 10' in some future?
on the 22nd November, 2017 at 8:00am
Will be worse going into the Europa League, so of course Napoli want to qualify.
on the 22nd November, 2017 at 4:07am

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