Last season’s 3-0 thumping in Florence was the turning point for Maurizio Sarri and the Partenopei’s Scudetto ambitions in Serie A. Once again, Napoli dropped vital points against the Viola at the Artemio Franchi on Saturday evening – this time with a slightly new line-up and different Coach at the helm.
Failing to beat a ninth-placed Fiorentina now presents Juventus with an opportunity to extend their lead to 11 points when they take on Sassuolo later this evening. Just as the Bianconeri slip up – as they did so against Parma last week – Napoli fail to pounce on the rare occasion to close the gap.
Even though Fiorentina’s Alban Lafont put in a stellar performance between the posts, the point-blank opportunities Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik squandered did raise a few eyebrows on Napoli’s lack of clinical finishing in away fixtures. Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon were also far too wasteful with some of their glorious chances. The Viola may be a stubborn side to break down at home, however, it’s games like these where Napoli should be claiming all three points, especially when controlling possession and enjoying the better of the attacking chances.
The scoreless draw in Florence couldn’t have come at a more critical time for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, who now travel to Switzerland for their Round of 32 Europa League clash with FC Zurich. It’s not time to panic just yet, but after failing to score a single goal in their last four away fixtures, this recurring trend does warrant some attention.
For all of Napoli’s domination in possession and crisp passing up front, the Partenopei can’t seem to profit from their goalscoring opportunities when they play away from home. The Champions League loss against Liverpool at Anfield, the Boxing Day clash against Inter and the stalemate with Milan all emulate the recent frustration Napoli’s players and fans experienced against Fiorentina.
Being too wasteful in front of goal during away fixtures has already cost the southern Italian side 13 potential points in Serie A, a place in the Champions League’s Round of 16 and a chance to claim the Coppa Italia trophy after Juve’s shock exit.
The Neapolitans do play some exuberant football at the San Paolo – flourishing under Ancelotti’s flexible 4-4-2 formation. But when the two-time Scudetto winners play on the road in any competition, especially in games where the stakes are high, the pressure seems to take a toll on the team – resulting in pure frustration among the Neapolitan supporters.
Both Milik and Insigne have been prime examples of this trend, scoring an abundance of goals in Naples and wasting chances in away games. It seems that this current poor form on the road is a confidence and mentality issue that is spreading throughout the Napoli squad, most notably in the forward line.
It is not through want of trying. Napoli have had 58 shots in their last four Serie A away games, 19 of those were on target, but resulted in only one goal.
On paper, Napoli’s players should get the job done against FC Zurich without any hesitations. However, after two losses and two scoreless draws in their last four away fixtures in both the Coppa Italia and Serie A, the Azzurri’s disturbing away form might play into Swiss hands.
The 12-time Super League winners are one of the best defensive sides in Switzerland, who only conceded six goals in their Europa League group. It’s quite possible that they might do an Italian Job on Napoli in the first leg – nullifying the midfield supply and attacking threats of Mertens, Insigne, Milik and Piotr Zielinski.
But with Ancelotti’s expertise in European competition, this capable Napoli side should push for Europa League silverware. The key for the Partenopei to overcome this away form adversity is to try and emulate their prolific home performances.