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Monday April 16 2018
Napoli stumble at the last hurdles

This was the period of the season when Napoli were meant to be at their sharpest compared to Juventus, but Daryl Hammond sees the opposite.

But for the late heroics of the man in the Milan goal, Napoli might well have won at San Siro. Arkadiusz Milik’s effort seems destined for the far corner until Gianluigi Donnarumma throws his hulking frame to the ground in an instant to save it. It was already a monumental day for the 19-year-old, who became the youngest ever to reach 100 Serie A appearances, so it was only fitting he took the headlines.

In truth, it was one of the few times he was truly tested in the game, as his super stop distracts from another poor Napoli performance, one that all but puts the Scudetto out of reach.

Both sides did their best to make a game of it, but the Partenopei failed to break down a Milan defence missing both Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli.

True, they have faced some tough teams of late, but look less and less the swashbuckling side of earlier in the campaign. Their fast-paced game and Maurizio Sarri’s stubbornness in fully rotating his players has finally caught up with them.

Whether it is fatigue, predictability or just poor form, something has to change.

It is worth reiterating how well Sarri has done, without whom Napoli wouldn’t be where they are. Keeping up with a Juventus team that for a large portion of the season didn’t even concede a goal is a praise-worthy feat. But it has been hard to ignore recent performances in what should be a crucial period in their season.

Draws against Inter, Sassuolo and Milan and a home defeat to Roma have dented their chances. Even the win against Chievo came through two very late goals. This is the time of the season where they ought to be relishing the advantage of not playing in Europe or the Coppa Italia. Instead, it is Napoli who look like they’ve run out of steam.

While Napoli’s stars toiled in Milan, Juve’s bench players flourished. It’s easy to complain that Napoli don’t have the resources of Juve, but they don’t use the options that they have right now. Piotr Zielinski, Amadou Diawara and Adam Ounas are far from bad players, and could potentially develop into great ones. They are certainly deserving of more than the handful of starts they have been handed this season.

Marko Rog, for example, has made 22 Serie A appearances this season – every single one off the bench. What real opportunity or incentive is there for bench players to try and break into the starting XI?

Switching up the squad is about more than fitness. It is about form. Dries Mertens has been revelation as a striker under Sarri, little doubt in that, but the Belgian has been off the boil in recent weeks, scoring only twice in his last 10 games. Whether he needs a rest or a reason to step up his game, with Milik back they have the opportunity to try something different.

Few teams win a long and arduous league campaign with a good starting XI alone. Sarri needs more faith in his role players or a bigger squad to truly compete.

The way football has gone for Italian teams in the past week, it might be foolhardy to make predictions. But on a weekend where Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain celebrated domestic titles, it is difficult to argue with the idea Juventus have also taken a significant step towards Calcio’s biggest prize.

Have your say...
JUST THINK.......................

If Napoli had gone out on purpose (yeah, sure!) they would have received a hefty fine.

More so they would have been expelled from future UEFA/FIFA competitions!!!
on the 20th April, 2018 at 5:10am
Actually Sarri and FC Napoli resemble Hasenhüttl and RB Leipzig, but I believe RB Leipzig has a lot younger team and their coach nor managers never ever denied Europa ambitions.
on the 19th April, 2018 at 1:50pm
@ Beppe Rossi

Just imagine the allegations and media frenzy if the roles were reversed.
on the 19th April, 2018 at 8:40am
Just as much as Sarri is a real guru in Serie A matters so is DiFra in the Champions League.

Excellent debut season by DiFra in the CL!
His tactics proved to be spot on in this campaign, excepted a few hiccups.

Could be a valid pointer when considering the position of the Azzurri's manager job.
on the 19th April, 2018 at 5:42am
I think it is outrageous that Napoli fans will be allowed to sit in the away end vs Juventus. They've banned us 4 times from traveling to Napoli for matches, yet they allow non ultra fans in? but didn't for Juventus fans in Campagnia and Lazio.
on the 18th April, 2018 at 6:17pm
The points tally of Napoli in Serie A is EXCELLENT, Sarri has the knowledge to navigate very well the gale force waters of the calcio italiano.

Sadly he is inept in international waters, but hey, sometimes, you can't have it all.

Sarri is the BEST asset in Napoli's armour, he makes things happen and he achieves a lot, using his own beliefs, succeeding where most others would fail, given Napoli's purse strings. Obviously Sarri is soooo much better than any armchair enthusiast.

BEWARE OF UDINES
on the 18th April, 2018 at 12:13pm
Why Sarri repeated so many times they (who exactly? players???) are not interested in Europa?
on the 18th April, 2018 at 7:20am
It's a pity Napoli as a team has no winning mentality. This is players (many of) and coach, I do not know about ADL though. No-winners play well against weaker teams, then play badly against better teams. I have names in my mind, don't want to put them on keyboard, but most of us knows who is who. That might be also to the [lack of?] starting team rotation, how can you born winning mentality from subs / bench players? An example might be last 0:0 draw with Milan, why Sarri started Mertens?
on the 18th April, 2018 at 7:19am
100% true there should be a change, but its too late to do the rotation or make the changes now remaining 5 or 6 games, napoli wasted glorious chances to win the title, also wasted the chances in Europe.
on the 18th April, 2018 at 4:20am
Napoli's problem was in the Winter mercato and Sarri's stubbornness.

Rotation and plan B are needed. Some people think that rotation means changing the whole lineup or changing the essential players.. No, you rotate with a constant core.

Juve rotated so much this season, sold and bought many players,
and still doing great, riddle me that?

Milan's example of rotation is irrelevant because they change coaches so often and their squad is not as good as Juve's and Napoli's to begin with.

A blind man can see how tired and predictable Napoli have become. This is not to take away from their achievements and beautiful football.
on the 17th April, 2018 at 1:08pm
" It seems older players can make as many mistakes as they like and still be trusted. " quote from Maldini's heir. That's the problem of whole Serie A. Just go away, Candreva! More playing time for Karamoh! Spalletti and Sarri are same, in rotation issue.
on the 17th April, 2018 at 7:54am
Fair points made there. Napoli's 1st XI are kept game after game and it's the reason for Napoli fluid football. Rotating means error, slip up, and Sarri can't afford any. He has been under immense pressure because he competes with a relentless Juve who never seem to pause one bit. The deficit was already too much before the season started. Juve is simply too strong. When you collect 90+ points but fail to win the title, then it's hardly your fault. Juve won their credit fair and square.
on the 17th April, 2018 at 6:48am
including one that cost us the derby. It seems older players can make as many mistakes as they like and still be trusted. The problem for the young players at Milan is our enormous squad where we seem to have 3 players for each position rather than one. Napoli are the complete opposite. And happily swap places. Ideally Napoli need to sign 3 squad players; one FB that can cover both sides, one Winger that can cover both sides and an upgrade on Milik.
on the 17th April, 2018 at 12:11am
than both Silva and Kalinic (in fact he's got the same number as the two others combined) but still gets overlooked in the big matches. Kalinic has been awful this season. If Cutrone had performed as badly as Kalinic he'd be put on a never ending loan cycle (the purgatory of the football transfer market). Meanwhile Locatelli's been reduced to cameos in what should've been the season he established himself after his breakthrough season last season. Again Biglia has been guilty of crucial errors
on the 17th April, 2018 at 12:07am
without thinking. It's exactly what Barcelona and Real have done where the likes of Messi has played 546 games in 14 years (an average of 39 games per season). That is the secret to his machine like ability. Meanwhile the likes of Milan are rotating their strikers every game. Which neat tangent allows me to shoehorn in a rant about Milan. Why exactly did our leading goalscorer not get on the pitch? Just what exactly does a youth player need to do to get a game in Italy? Cutrone has more goals
on the 17th April, 2018 at 12:01am
...Napoli ...nothing but 2nd.
Only interesting race in final weeks will be for 2 remaining CL spots

Roma v Lazio v Inter for 3-4-5 places.
Then it’ll be a sad summer.
Bye-bye Gigi
...and that imbecile Ventura is coming back to coach in Serie A ? Omg
on the 17th April, 2018 at 12:01am
Firstly, Napoli are set for a record points haul (beating last season's record points haul of 86) this season so I'm not sure you can criticise them too much. Juve will win a 7th consecutive title due to other teams' failures. The fact that both teams might get to 90+ points says a lot about the so-called competition. Secondly, Sarri is only able to get his team playing the way it does because of the lack of rotation. It's all about that consistency in the line up that allows them to play
on the 16th April, 2018 at 11:56pm
Why the Ajax kid overturned his decision to join Napoli? Sarri won’t develop him to be a great player, period. No chance, no chance if u can’t get enough playing time.
on the 16th April, 2018 at 9:32pm
So Napoli intentionally de-prioritized the Champions League and the Europa League in order to focus on the league. Looks like that decision was a very foolish one. With Lazio and Roma in the Semis, Napoli should be ashamed.
on the 16th April, 2018 at 8:55pm
Rog, Zielinski and Diawara are all outstanding young talents, and are being wasted at Napoli. They went there thinking they'd start more and they haven't. Sarri is a coward and Napoli are again, also rans.
on the 16th April, 2018 at 6:48pm
The front 3 have been off form for quite some time now - predictable, wasteful & sluggish. Daryl makes a great point about the fringe players. It must be galling to watch the front 3 being guaranteed starters when they are off form. This doesn't send a good message to the players, neither does it look enticing for potential transfer targets. I have a feeling that there will be many changes at the club this summer. Fair play to Juve though, they have been relentless.
on the 16th April, 2018 at 6:48pm
They lack a cutting edge mertens hasn't scored for the last couple of games for me he looks tired milik has just come back from a huge injury layoff. Milan bar the first couple of minutes in the game where on the defensive. Why didn't they buy another forward in the winter mercato all you get from adl is insults and accusations. A result against udinese is a must at least to keep it alive until they play juve. Their is the potential for a slip up juve have inter and roma away from home.
on the 16th April, 2018 at 4:19pm
Barring a win in Turin and a few more slip-ups, the title race is over.

And with Juve being knocked out of the CL, that only adds to Napoli's woes.
on the 16th April, 2018 at 3:13pm

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