Emotions are running high in Naples, after the heart-breaking defeat at the hands of Roma and the frustrating stalemate with Inter. The Partenopei players look shattered, both mentally and physically, but it’s Coach Maurizio Sarri who has come under the microscope.
The Italian is a fiery character who never holds back, and his recent post-match interviews were a recipe for disaster. Sarri hit the headlines for his comments towards a female reporter and the ex-Empoli boss is clearly feeling the heat. This was the second public spat in as many weeks, unsurprisingly coinciding with Napoli losing their grip on the top of the table.
The goal-less draw with the Nerazzurri has knocked the stuffing out of the former front-runners and the swagger running throughout the side is temporarily lost.
Sarri’s words do not match his actions and this has been a recurring theme throughout the campaign. After the loss to the Lupi, he insisted Juventus are “the only contenders to win the Scudetto”, but the Neapolitan is fooling no one, especially as his side have led for almost the entire season.
If the Partenopei were a distant second best in Sarri’s eyes, why did he rest star forward Dries Mertens, first choice midfielders Jorginho and Allan for the opening match of the Champions League group stages? The Italian’s intentions were clear as early as mid-September when the season was still in its infancy.
Similarly, he rested a host of first-teamers in the Europa League Round of 32 defeat against RB Leipzig. The players haven’t hidden their ambitions of securing a first Scudetto in 28 years and Sarri’s team selections further indicate this priority.
It was always going to be a tough ask for Napoli to stay out in front, but the defeatist attitude of the Azzurri boss is not helping. The Bianconeri have European duties to navigate, while Napoli can focus solely on their league dream. Moreover, the two clubs will also face off in a heavyweight encounter on April 22 and, provided Napoli can get back to winning ways, they could yet claim back top spot from Max Allegri’s team.
Sure, this is a good Bianconeri side, but it arguably isn’t as good as previous years. In comparison, this thrillingly excellent group of Napoli stars are all at their peak, and the likes of Mertens, Jorginho and Faouzi Ghoulam may not stick around for another campaign of finishing second best. Sarri’s job is to lift his troops, and treating his dedicated group as if they are part of a mid-table outfit is disrespecting not only the men who have given their all, but also the passionate people of Naples who are desperate for glory.
The difference between the top two sides in the division could be just two points by Sunday evening and we are at a stage now where the result is far more important than style. Napoli need to mix it up and show their grit, and, more importantly, Sarri needs to admit it’s not all over just yet.