After the stadium lights went out, Luciano Spalletti declared himself happy with Inter’s character, whilst in Naples Carlo Ancelotti claimed he was disappointed with the evening. It would perhaps come as a surprise to those who had missed the results to then read that it was the Nerazzurri who drew in Frankfurt, whilst the Partenopei demolished RB Salzburg 3-0.
The evening in Naples was a majestic one for all those who came to see Napoli play under the lights of the San Paolo. Arkadiusz Milik brought back memories of Careca as he rounded the RB Salzburg goalkeeper with a simple movement of his hips, before Fabian Ruiz’s super volley sent the home crowd into ecstasy. By the time Jerome Onguene had put the ball into his own net, giving the Neapolitans a 3-0 home win, the fans were already thinking about who they would face in the next round.
All but Carlo Ancelotti, it seems. He was incensed by what he termed ‘avoidable situations.’ What he was referring to was in the most part, the bookings received by Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic. These now mean both of Napoli’s dominant centre-backs will miss the second leg in Austria, something that worries the experienced Coach as, despite the 3-0 score-line, it was evident that RB Salzburg had a dangerous front line. Alex Meret had to pull off some fine saves on the night, denying the opposition the chance of a precious away goal.
Salzburg played with pace and a determination that will certainly test the Neapolitans in the next leg, but they should have accrued a large enough lead to keep them clear. The fact that in current form Milik and Lorenzo Insigne in full flight are perhaps the most attractive and dangerous combination to watch in Serie A right now, will also mean that an away goal will be likely. Frustration may have been evident with Ancelotti, but with the Scudetto now gone after last weekend’s dramatic game against Juventus, the Europa League will become the key focus for the Partenopei.
When the draw for the Round of 16 was made, the tie that brought the biggest gasp was when Inter were drawn away at Frankfurt. It was perhaps not just for the atmosphere that both sets of fans would bring, or the fact that both sides had lethal strikers (had one not gone AWOL), but rather that both of these teams were seen as having a real possibility of winning this competition. Eintracht have been playing well in the Bundesliga whilst Inter, even with their recent problems, can always surprise with a big performance.
Marcelo Brozovic took responsibility was denied by Kevin Trapp, who did well to get across to a penalty struck with only mild conviction. Spalletti was celebrating his 60th birthday and must have thought at this point that it wasn’t going to be one to remember. Despite missing Mauro Icardi, Radja Nainggolan and Kieta Balde Diao, the Nerazzurri dug deep and played well in the first half, putting the home team on the back foot. They didn’t, however, create enough chances and as the game went on, they defended deeper and deeper, in the end narrowly getting away with a stalemate.
Spalletti however, declared himself proud of their character and told Sky Sport Italia that his team had played with authority in the first half. The result was overall a good one, as this was one of the toughest tests, but the lack of an away goal means Eintracht could go through with a score draw at San Siro.
Inter will certainly make that night one to remember, as the atmosphere will equal the one they received in Frankfurt. When you consider rhe results achieved by the so called ‘weaker’ teams in the draw, like Stade Rennes and Slavia Prague, Inter’s result in context is impressive.
Napoli and Inter should take heart from their Europa performances and whilst there will be difficulties in the next leg, both can hope to go through. This season in Serie A is about the top four, (second place for Napoli), but the Europa League still offers a road to glory that would be the crowning achievement for both clubs. Italy still have a lot to say in this competition.