After failing to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage, Napoli will continue their continental journey in the Europa League, where they’ll face last year’s Bundesliga runners-up RB Leipzig.
Similarly to the Partenopei, the Germans were eliminated from their Champions League group in the last round and left with the bitter feeling that they could’ve done more. Another common link between the two sides is that in the last two years they’ve been challenging the dominance of two powerhouses in their respective leagues.
While nobody really expects Leipzig to actually to take the Bundesliga crown from Bayern Munich, the Serie A title has become a real obsession in Naples. It’s very rare that a team with so much talent will neglect their European participation just for the sake of domestic success. This has been part of Napoli’s (and Roma’s) Scudetto failures in recent years, as both club’s mentality doesn’t allow them to make the next step and become truly great sides.
While undoubtedly disappointing, Napoli’s elimination from the Champions League was not considered that big a surprise, as it was treated like something almost normal by the club and the fans.
The hatred towards Juventus and the hunger for domestic success is so big in Naples that the tifosi actually seem relieved that their team will not get distracted by the Champions League participation. This is partly due to the Azzurri’s short bench, but mainly due to their mindset and Maurizio Sarri’s refusal to rotate his squad.
With the games against Leipzig starting in mid-February, the Serie A Coach of the year will have to become a bit less stubborn and give some significant playing time to the likes of Emanuele Giaccherini, Adam Ounas and Marko Rog.
The trio can be extremely useful, but has been just partially used by Sarri, who while describing Rog and Ounas as “just young lads” has also refused to use the experienced Giach, who was an important part of Antonio Conte’s title-winning Juventus side and has always proved his worth when playing for Italy. However, for some reason Sarri still doesn’t deem him good enough for Napoli.
As a Bundesliga runner-up and a team aiming at another Champions League participation next term, Leipzig should not be underestimated in any way. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side plays an attractive brand of attacking football and on their day, especially at the Red Bull Arena, is capable of challenging any opposition.
The Bulls can be extremely dangerous if given enough space, as they possess a real plethora of attacking talent. With 12 goals in all competitions to his name so far, young German international Timo Werder is the side’s top goalscorer and one of their standout players. However, the likes of Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita are worth being highlighted as well, as their ability to create chances, control the tempo and pull the strings is Leipzig’s biggest strength.
With 21 goals conceded in just 15 Bundesliga games this term, the Germans’ weakness undoubtedly is their defence. This is the area that Napoli should exploit, as Hasenhüttl’s men keep making avoidable mistakes at the back and their game-style often leaves their shaky backline exposed.
Therefore, similarly to the games against Manchester City earlier this year, the clashes with Leipzig are expected to be a pure entertainment for the neutrals with many scoring chances and goals at both ends. However, just like the Citizens outclassed Napoli, Sarri’s side should be able do the same with Leipzig in order to regain some of the lost pride and start building the winning mentality that they’ve lacked so far.
The Germans are not only capable of adding more misery to the Partenopei’s season, but also have the luxury to face the Italians without any unrealistic expectations. Something similar could be said for Napoli as well, as after all nobody will judge them if they fall to Leipzig and win the Scudetto at the end of the season.
The games against Leipzig are not only a big mentality test for Sarri’s side, but should also be a turning point in the way that Napoli are facing their European commitments. If the 58-years-old tactician doesn’t start using the full depth of his squad and if Napoli keep ignoring prestige European encounters for domestic success, they run a huge risk of getting stuck in mediocrity and ruining the legacy of an extremely talented side.