Saturday February 22 2020
Gattuso grinds Napoli down

The comeback victory in Brescia showed Gennaro Gattuso and Napoli are finding the ability to grind out results, writes Vijay Rahaman.

Napoli had the possession, most of the play and created the chances, but it took a moment of brilliance to conquer Brescia on Friday night.

In the post-match press conference Partenopei manager Gennaro Gattuso mentioned his side had "sterile possession" in the first half. Well whatever the former midfielder said to his players at the interval, certainly turned that into an end product and a vital victory at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti.

Belgium forward Dries Mertens almost got his side off to the perfect start, as his shot with less than two minutes gone grazed the top of the bar from a seemingly improbable angle. He is of course chasing history, as he is just one strike away from equalling the all-time record for Napoli goals, currently held by former captain Marek Hamsik. It feels as if the Slovak broke Diego Maradona's record just the other day... How time flies.

Speaking of flying, Venezuela defender Jhon Chancellor flew high above the away side's defenders to absolutely power a Sandro Tonali corner into the goal. Surely Napoli had watched videos of the Rondinelle to know the defender is a massive threat from set-pieces? Gattuso has chosen Davide Ospina as his number one goalkeeper instead of Alex Meret, a decision that has drawn much criticism from media and fans alike, but the Colombian had no chance to prevent such a ferocious finish from just six yards out. The zonal marking on dead ball situations seriously needs work, or it could prove very costly.

Despite the concession of the opening goal, Napoli did not respond with the aggression and attacking verve one would expect given the talent at their disposal. The last 15 minutes of the half they continued to keep the ball without really creating anything of note.

The Azzurri are preparing for a mouth-watering Champions League clash with five time winners Barcelona on Tuesday, and their second half performance may have just given them a blue print on how to go about their work.

There was a clear shift of tactics, as the team pushed higher up the pitch and tried to not only win back the ball quicker, but do their best to suffocate Brescia. Napoli did not allow Brescia to have any time on the ball to build up their play and further increase their advantage from the first half and it paid dividends with a quick double strike.

Lorenzo Insigne returned to the starting line-up from his recent knee problems and the Neapolitan who has so often had a love-hate relationship with the club's fans, proved decisive in the tying goal. He found himself in space just 12 yards from goal, turned and had a shot that hit the outstretched arm of Brescia defender Ales Mateju. Fabian Ruiz completed the comeback with a moment of magic curled into the top corner.

There was just one moment of concern that Napoli had to deal with before the end, as they retreated into a bit more of a defensive shell late on when Mario Balotelli had a sliding effort from close range that went over the bar. They did not pay for leaving the former Italian international alone that time, but it is something they will need to be wary about on Tuesday against the Blaugrana and moving forward.

Napoli had 75% of the ball, made more than 500 passes than their opponents and had triple the amount of shots on target, but given that they won by just a one goal advantage, they'd do well to convert those stats into bit more of an end product. Facing Barca on Tuesday, they won't have the luxury of wasting any opportunities, but Gattuso just may have found his tactics on how to take this talented group forward. 

Have your say...
Hey they beat Liverpool, Barcelona is definitely within their reach. Napoli could beat anyone on their day. My only concern is Koulibaly's Absence for the already leaky Napoli's defense to begin with
on the 25th February, 2020 at 3:32am
If away fans wear face masks to the Napoli stadium for fear of corona virus will they be fined?
on the 23rd February, 2020 at 8:07am
Messi has been waiting to play in the hallowed grounds of Sant’ Maradona. He has been at his best of late and Napoli will need there strongest defense both physically and mentally to stop him and Barcelona. The positive is that Barca is not as strong defensively as in the past and are vulnerable to counter attacks. If Naples can control the majority of ball time and tempo they can defeat the Catalans. It will take great discipline, belief luck and confidence. Vinci Partenopei !
on the 22nd February, 2020 at 9:01pm
They've definitely turned the corner and are showing signs of the Napoli we’ve been used to in recent seasons. I feel that they are either strong in attack, with a softness in defense or vise versa. Right now, they’re not putting teams away before HT, which is what should be happening given their dominance in recent matches.
On a good note, the Fiorentina display is long gone, and we’re moving up the table. 4th place still there, and Barca coming up too!
on the 22nd February, 2020 at 4:45pm

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