Thursday February 15 2018
Italians must honour Europa League

Napoli, Milan, Lazio and Atalanta begin their Europa League knockout rounds tonight, so Vilizar Yakimov analyses who could - and should - go all the way.

If Italians are to make any progress and start the road of regaining their forgotten European glory, they simply cannot afford to dishonour the Europa League. It is true that the competition doesn’t offer the lucrative money of the Champions League, but if Manchester United considered it worthy of winning last year, why should Napoli, Milan and Lazio treat it like a second-tier tournament?

Especially for the Rossoneri, the Europa League could prove to be a real salvation, as similarly to Jose Mourinho’s team last term, Milan is currently not even close to a top four finish domestically.

Gennaro Gattuso’s team sit in seventh place, nine points away from Roma,who are occupying the last Champions League spot in fourth. The Rossoneri are already starting to look like a real team, as they are unbeaten in their last seven league games. Milan can definitely have their say in the Europa League. The tournament could potentially turn into a path to the Champions League for the Diavolo, as they do possess the talent and the depth to at least enjoy a deep run.

While the tifosi are probably excited to see how this young Milan side will matchupagainst the likes of Atletico Madrid and Arsenal, the truth is the Rossoneri should first think of Ludogorets Razgrad. The Bulgarian champions are a potential banana skin, as they managed to get results from the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and also eliminated Lazio from the Europa League four seasons ago.

Rino Gattuso should be careful with his rotations in Razgrad tonight, but the game might be a good chance for someone like Andre Silva to get some playing time under his belt.

If we could say that winning the tournament might just be out of Milan’s reach yet, the same cannot be said about Napoli. When clicking, Maurizio Sarri’s team is simply magnificent and could prove to be a handful even for tournament favourites Atletico Madrid and Arsenal. The question with the Partenopei is not so much “Can they win the Europa League?” as “Do they even want to?”

We all know that Napoli don’t have the greatest squad depth and with the thrilling Scudetto battle with Juventus close to reaching its peak, Sarri will probably field a weakened side against RB Leipzig.

While Leipzig cannot be considered a powerhouse,the German team is a serious opponent,and even if Napoli manages to go past them, fielding a weakened side would probably prove to be costly eventually. This could undoubtedly backfire and result in a yet another abysmal European performance by the Partenopei, who often fail in reproducing their domestic form on the Continent.

It will be very interesting to see Lazio’s approach to the competition, as Simone Inzaghi’s men are involved in a fierce battle for a top four spot in Serie A. The club’s record in the competition is not very impressive, as Lazio often use a weakened team, which resulted in some embarrassing performances.

This term, however, there is a different atmosphere and while reaching a Champions League spot domestically will undoubtedly be the main goal, a deep run in the Europa League would be more than welcome for Ciro Immobile and co. The Biancocelesti should be able to dispatch Steaua Bucharest even with a heavily rotated team, as a good result in the first leg in Romania would be crucial. Both of Lazio’s Felipes - Anderson and Caicedo–are expected to start and their combination of pace and power should prove too much for Steaua.

As for Atalanta, the Nerazzurri were very unfortunate with the draw, which paired them with one of the favourites for winning the tournament:Borussia Dortmund. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side already exceeded all expectations by topping a group containing the likes of Olympique Lyon and Everton, but the Bundesliga outfit would probably be too much for them to handle. However, Gasperini’s know-how, the overall team solidity and charismatic club talisman Papu Gomez still have a chance to cause an upset against the Germans.

The truth is that this young Milan team is still finding their feat and the priorities of Napoli are currently lying elsewhere, while Lazio’s insufficient squad depth and bad record in the competition mean, that an Italian victory in the tournament would be a big surprise

The prize money can not be compared to the amounts earned in the Champions League, but the Europa League offers much more than that. European pedigree and experience is something that almost all Italian teams have been lacking in recent years, not to mention a potential ticket to the Champions League.

Therefore, while winning the cup might just prove to be too much to want from any of the Italian teams right now, honouring the competition is a must, as a deep run of a Serie A team into the knockout stages would definitely be a step in the right direction for the whole league.

Have your say...
"It is true that the competition doesn’t offer the lucrative money of the Champions League, but if Manchester United considered it worthy of winning last year, why should Napoli, Milan and Lazio treat it like a second-tier tournament?"

Napoli could do so because they are leading in a title race where as United were in fifth place and NEEDED to win the Europa League IN ORDER to qualify for the CL. The two can hardly be compared.
on the 25th February, 2018 at 8:23am

Juventus puts in the Bank tons of money thanks to the CL, and that is the primary target as actually winning the Cup ain't easy for any of the other Top Clubs either.

The dosh, in turn, allows Juve to maintain a formidable squad to try to keep on top in Serie A (great, great target) and to do their very best to be with the other top contenders in the CL, always with at least a realistic chance of winning it.
on the 22nd February, 2018 at 2:10am
Manchester United had little to no chance of placing in the top 4 last season so they prioritised Europa League. Their league performances suffered.

Lazio & Napoli both have a strong chance of placing in the top 4 with the latter on for the Scudetto. Thursday night football along with the Lega Pro's inability to allow them game time later due to mid week commitment is why Napoli don't care.

We now have 4 CL spots guaranteed with co efficiency points no longer relevant.
on the 20th February, 2018 at 1:44pm

(And yes. I just commented to point out that error.)
on the 20th February, 2018 at 3:09am
Ravanelli I’m not saying they invented it but they embraced it and have adhered to it ever since. That is why the football is slow and boring. 
on the 18th February, 2018 at 5:03pm
Napoli dont have the money to compete. What they are doing in the league is down to the Milan teams being so bad and the rest of the league. I don't think they'll win the league, even though I want them to for a change. Its all about money and Napoli cant compete, even Juve cant with the way the transfer market is going these days. They play nice have a decent first eleven. No depth, back line not impressive and cant afford to upgrade.
on the 18th February, 2018 at 1:49am
@ 50 shades of footy

Are you telling me that Italy invented the Catenaccio?
You don't say?

And nope, you're not funny. You're a clown. Big difference.

Please keep talking about MMA and rugby and being dominated by foreign men. I enjoy those theories.
on the 17th February, 2018 at 9:58pm
Looks like it’s not just juventus that love to be dominated by foreign men in shorts. Looks like Napoli love it just as much. They should definitely have Napoli and Juve featuring in the next 50 shades movie.
on the 17th February, 2018 at 5:50pm

I’m a funny guy what can I say.

And no these aren’t just my assumptions. It’s well known that Italian footy is bir8ng and defensive. I didn’t make up cantenaccio you moron so it’s not just my assumption.
on the 17th February, 2018 at 5:48pm
Napoli ia a disgrace!
on the 17th February, 2018 at 5:55am
I wouldn't want to be a coach or player of a team that doesn't take either the CL or EL seriously. The game of football today is ever more a global competition. Your name, respect and value monetarily as a coach, player and team increases exponentially from winning them. If calcio and Seria A ever hope to get back to the top, they better wake up and pull their heads out of their azz or Serie A will continue to decline.
on the 16th February, 2018 at 4:43pm
Funny title... Serie A teams think they are to good for Europa..this arrogance based on what I don't know...
on the 16th February, 2018 at 10:42am
Napoli does not deserve scudetto. Napoli on neapolitan pitch lost 1:3 to mediocre (in 2017/18) Bundesliga team. Distance in quality between Juventus and Napoli is like between Bayern and Leipzig. Bayern is trashing Leipzig in direct matches, same with Juve over Napoli. Same with Real Madrit and Sevilla. TBH both Napoli and Leipzig play very similar football - fast pace, quick counter attacks. I believe RB Leipzig players are younger. I also expected Leipzig to play in CL.
on the 16th February, 2018 at 9:48am
It's funny how this site ignores Napoli when they play badly. Week in we get titles like Magnificent, and Brilliant describing Napoli... What a joke
on the 16th February, 2018 at 8:29am
50 shades

Nah you haven't. But just read your own words.
Your continuous nonsense did make me laugh, though.

You're all over the place with those made-up theories and assumptions that are based on nothing but your own bias.
on the 16th February, 2018 at 6:46am
Well done Atalanta. They didn't deserve to lose.

Napoli was somewhat expected by looking at the lineup and the attendance.

Why was Sarri mad at his players, though? How can they take it seriously when neither you nor the fans have.

Lazio can still turn it around hopefully.
on the 16th February, 2018 at 6:45am
“We are wearing the Napoli jersey and it has to be honoured. I am let down by what I saw"

Yet on the eve of the game Sarri said he can't lie to the team or the fans and pretend he cares about this tournament. Shocking management in my opinion. This is a stunning attitude from a guy who has done very little wrong thus far.

Napoli will qualify for CL next season, yes. But, what's the point if they don't have faith in a squad to play in it? Napoli are great, but as a club must take that next step
on the 16th February, 2018 at 4:43am
Next season’s transfer dealings will tell if Napologies are really trying to progress or just have a wonderful season and do a Leicester if you will.
I think not however, simply because they are at the top of the league consistently on competing for champions league football. However, they really do need a squad full of players that when changes are made the team still plays at a very high-level.
Sarrived really needs to start talking like Napoli belong.
on the 16th February, 2018 at 2:09am
This was very poor from Napoli. Sarri needs to shoulder 100% of the blame here. He went into this tournament playing it down and it showed in the stadium with lack of spectators and the players effort. If Npoli are only able to play one competition seriously, that is pathetic. To avoid this in the future they really need to bolster the squad and compete on all levels. Not good enough.
on the 16th February, 2018 at 2:06am
Liverpool have not won the league in 27 years and they wouldn't dream of not taking the Champions League seriously if they were at the top of the prem. It's just as big a deal for them to win the league as Napoli and they would never sacrifice the CL, it's unheard of.

Either Napoli were lying as an excuse or they are a disgrace.
on the 16th February, 2018 at 1:49am
Why would Napoli allegedly get knocked out of CL on purpose? They still have to play at least 2 matches in Europe and i'm sure it's financially more sound to play those 2 matches in CL than in EL. I think they just weren't good enough to progress out of their group and then retroactively decided it was deliberate. It's clear they don't care about EL at all but claiming they didn't care about CL either? Juventus earns like 90+ million € from CL each year, nobody would just leave that on the table
on the 16th February, 2018 at 12:40am
It would be a great story if Napoli wins the league but as a Serie A fan I'm half-waiting for more serious teams to push them aside. Napoli's squad will likely be ransacked this summer, which means yet another poor season in Europe for an Italian team. When they do rebuild I question whether their long term goal is to become an elite side or to simply make Juve look inferior for a bit. What do you all think?
on the 15th February, 2018 at 11:13pm

Have I touched a nerve? You’re getting awfully defensive about it, almost as defensive as Italian footy. Don’t take my username literally mate, I don’t swing that way I’m afraid, sorry to disappoint you.
on the 15th February, 2018 at 9:47pm
Napoli say what we all think, EL and Copa Italia are useless tournaments no one cares about but for a team that's fighting for the Scudetto, you should probably show some class and not publicly say as much. Then again, look at the Napoli president and how much he loves running his mouth over trivial issues, it is no doubt a cultural problem at the club.

Napoli disappointed when they purposely got knocked out of the CL. Take your Serie A title and go back to being a mid table team.
on the 15th February, 2018 at 8:53pm
I really believe that Napoli should give everything for this competition. Being a finalist in the Europa league would be a wonderful way to market the club to a broader audience, and I still feel they can compete to their capabilities in Serie A without any drop in performance. Napali are not good enough yet to turn down the opportunity to win a trophy.
on the 15th February, 2018 at 6:24pm
"50 shades.."

in the other blog:

"Italians play pansy girly football"


"Italian teams love being dominated by foreign men"

Please take your filthy fantasies somewhere else.
on the 15th February, 2018 at 5:39pm

This article is trodden out on this website every year after Italian teams get battered in the champions league by real teams, it just gets re worded slightly.

Italian teams take the competition seriously, but they just suck so bad that they can’t compete with continental teams and can’t win anything. Juventus have to carry the joke that is serie a every season. Italian teams love being dominated by foreign men. Serie a is such a crap league it makes Juventus and Napoli look amazing.
on the 15th February, 2018 at 4:33pm
Napoli can't and don't want to go deep into the EL, let alone win it.
They know this is the last hurrah for this particular squad to win the Scudetto.
They wanted this since the Maradona days so it's understandable.

Atalanta and Milan simply do not have what it takes unfortunately.

Lazio is the wild card here. They have been great this season under Simeone, but then being thrashed by Napoli raises some concerns. Who knows.
Not sure what their intentions and priorities are either.
on the 15th February, 2018 at 4:04pm
Why should other teams priorities lie elsewhere and Juventus be expected to win everything under the sun and every match that they play?
on the 15th February, 2018 at 2:47pm
Continued: Serie A is the ONLY league that does not take the EL seriously, and an Italian club has not won it in 19 years, after dominating the previous 11, which is a SHAME! It is that type of arrogance on the part of Italians, that has the league & Italia where it is right now! Look no further than Juve's PATHETIC boring, defensive, old time 60's Catenaccio style performance against Spurs led by the pathetic old timer Allegri....
on the 15th February, 2018 at 1:45pm

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