After Juventus’ dismal showing at Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday, Italy’s most realistic shot at some European silverware this season rests on Napoli and Inter.
Max Allegri’s men were of course humbled in comprehensive fashion and, barring a miracle, will crash out of the Champions League on March 12.
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio also endured a miserable midweek encounter in Spain, losing 3-0 on aggregate to Sevilla, and the Aquile will now switch concentration to securing a European berth for the following campaign via their league finish or Coppa Italia success.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli might be firing blanks in Serie A, but they still seem to know how to find the back of the net in Europe. They thrashed FC Zurich 5-1 on aggregate to reach the last 16 of the Europa League, with a standout performance by Adam Ounas. The winger barely featured under Maurizio Sarri, but he showed in place of Jose Callejon on the right side of a 4-4-2 formation glimpses of what he can give to the team.
Callejon was famously never left out by Sarri, even when visibly exhausted or in games that were meaningless. That evidently impacted upon the confidence of second-string players like Ounas, Marko Rog and Nikola Maksimovic. Ancelotti has, if nothing else, introduced the concept of squad rotation to the Partenopei and is rediscovering some talents that had all but vanished.
If any Italian club is going all the way in Europe, it’s probably going to be Napoli. They were unlucky to go out of the Champions League in a very tough group by goal difference and, unlike Inter, have pretty much already guaranteed their spot in the top four. With Juventus 13 points out in front at the top, there’s nothing to distract Ancelotti from adding a new trophy to the CV.
Inter, on the other hand, still have work to do, particularly with a resurgent Milan and Roma gathering steam and they are no longer guaranteed third or even fourth spot in Serie A.
A serial winner, Ancelotti will have acknowledged this was his best chance of a trophy when the Azzurri got knocked out of the Champions League at the hands of Liverpool and PSG.
Looking at the last 16 in the Europa League, Napoli do stand out as potential winners. Unai Emery lifted this trophy repeatedly at Sevilla, but Arsenal seem dysfunctional and unreliable. Sarri is permanently on the verge of a Chelsea sacking, although we’ve seen in the past with Roberto Di Matteo that a mid-season dismissal can do wonders for this club.
Sevilla are the Europa League specialists, but although the aggregate win over Lazio was 3-0, the performances over two legs left a lot to be desired. A more clinical side could’ve created a very different tie.
Villarreal and Valencia looked unconvincing too in their progress, while Claudio Marchisio’s Zenit scraped past Fenerbahce. Big guns like Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Bayer Leverkusen, Fenerbahce, Sporting CP and Shakhtar Donetsk have all been eliminated.
Eintracht Frankfurt are definitely worth keeping an eye on, as they showed Lazio in the group stage that they are a force to be reckoned with, annihilating Shakhtar 4-1 on Thursday evening. It would be fascinating to see them paired with Napoli, especially with Jonathan de Guzman’s claims about his very ugly departure from the club, even describing a fist-fight with director of sport Cristiano Giuntoli.