Sunday July 26 2020
Napoli flying the flag

Napoli showed a sharp offside trap can be crucial, but it’s a risky game to play against Sassuolo, let alone Barcelona, writes Owen Diana.

Gennaro Gattuso painted the Saturday night match as a test for the upcoming Champions League Round of 16, pointing to the similarities in playing style between Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo and Barcelona. It was a stretch, but had some truth to it, so we might see the Napoli offside trap play a crucial part at Camp Nou.

This meeting between two of the Peninsula’s most exciting attacks was unlikely to skimp on emotion and chances at both ends. Despite the forecast for a high-scoring affair, the domestic fates of both clubs were already decided before kick-off, leaving little to play for at the San Paolo. Nevertheless, Napoli and Sassuolo fulfilled expectations in a pulsating encounter that demonstrated why the visitors have become Serie A’s Cinderella side, while an erratic home team can look forward to a bright future under Gattuso.

Few expected these squads to be where they were heading into Saturday night’s match-up. Sassuolo had become accustomed to finishing in the bottom half of the table since their debut top-flight campaign in 2013-14, after the initial heights of a Europa League run under Eusebio Di Francesco had dissipated. Meanwhile, Napoli established themselves as a consistent challenger to Juve’s throne over the past few years.

The Neroverdi’s unlikely rise is largely down to the brilliant work of Roberto De Zerbi, whose forward-thinking outlook has drawn the admiration of none other than Pep Guardiola. Even though Napoli came into Week 36 as close to 18th-placed Lecce as they were to the top of the table, Gattuso also deserves credit for turning around a club that was a shambles both on and off the field before he took over in December. Illustrious predecessors Carlo Ancelotti and Maurizio Sarri were unable to lift a major trophy with the Neapolitans, which Gattuso did at the first time of asking in the Coppa Italia Final against Juventus.

That epic night against The Old Lady was a reminder of how an in-form Napoli can be a match for anyone in Europe. They were similarly inspired in the first half against the Neroverdi, breaking through the visitors’ midfield press to repeatedly threaten Andrea Consigli’s goal. By the break, the Partenopei deserved much more than their slender 1-0 lead.

Yet, the second stanza confirmed that Napoli’s rehabilitation under Gattuso is far from complete. The crisp interchanges of the first 45 minutes were replaced by a laxness in possession that let Sassuolo grow into the game. Elseid Hysaj looked far less comfortable containing the lively Domenico Berardi than he did charging upfield from an unfamiliar left-back role. In midweek, VAR had condemned the hosts to a contentious defeat at Parma, with two questionable penalty decisions going against Gattuso’s men. Yet, the technology saved them here, ruling out no less than four Sassuolo goals for offside.

Even in defeat, Sassuolo can take encouragement from their improved second half performance. Their thrilling eight-match unbeaten run after the lockdown will go down as one of the high points in a glorious recent history for the club. Napoli’s Serie A showings this season are unlikely to be remembered as fondly, but all will be forgiven if they can pair their Coppa triumph with a deep run in the Champions League.

Gattuso has not cured Napoli’s Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, but the fight and organization they showed to manage the closing stages of Saturday’s triumph bodes well for the impending clash against Barcelona. Sassuolo’s transformation into one of Europe’s brightest attacking outfits would have seemed impossible just a few short years ago. A Napoli victory at the Camp Nou could be deemed similarly far-fetched, giving Gattuso the chance to end a tumultuous campaign in a blaze of glory.

Have your say...
They need a shot of refreshment to metarealise with the new phase they are going. five in five out for me for a suggestion. that will be a new revolbed team under gattusso much like sassuolos....
on the 28th July, 2020 at 3:51am
If Gattuso plays Mertens on the left, Milik and Callejon/Politano, Allan, lobo, Zilnski behind them, and Kalidou Manolas with Di Lorenzo, and Rui in front of Ospina, Napoli will have a great chance of beating Barça
YES you read it correctly, NO INSIGNE, NO INSIGNE, NO INSIGNE.
on the 27th July, 2020 at 11:58pm
Obviously Napoli faces a tough task in Barcelona, however Rino knows that defence wins in high level games. Barca is also vulnerable on the counter so if Napoli can play it close they have a chance.
That said Messi remains a force that can change a game in a moment as all the great ones do.
Regardless of what happens Napoli should be proud of their comeback under Gattuso and who would believe after all that transpired this year they are in the final eight.
Bravo Napoli, Bravo Gattuso
on the 27th July, 2020 at 7:15pm

Barcelona 0:2 Milan, Camp Nou, 26/9/2000, Group H, Champions League 2000/2001.
on the 27th July, 2020 at 4:18pm
I don't really know how good Osimhen is but assuming he's an upgrade on Milik who isn't a bad player at all then Napoli are already looking good for next season. They only really need a top class LB and RW and they're pretty much there. If KK leaves then a new CB would also be required but even if they didn't replace him they'd have Manolas, Maksimovic, Rrhamani and Luperto but ideally another would be required. They have pretty good depth in the squad in general.
on the 27th July, 2020 at 9:00am
I have to agree that the Juventus paid trolls always have to comments on other teams. Juventus have won many league but only two Champions League. Napoli and Atalanta have already done better than Juventus have in Europe this season. Rubentus is a big disappointment in Europe for Italy.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 11:51pm
I didn't bad mouth Napoli. I gave cold, hard facts.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 6:09pm
Gattuso is a limited coach. Expect Napoli to sit with 10 men inside their box and go for the odd counter. It might work once in a while but that's not a trophy winning style.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 3:58pm
As your nickname and what you say suggest, you are a Juventus supporter, why are bothering with Napoli's future results, it is obvious that like many Juventus supporters you are totally obsessed with Napoli. 2 suggestions for you; 1-Leave Napoli alone it's better for you mental health. 2-meditate on the dozens of stolen titles by Juventus istead.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 3:14pm
Gattuso like all his predecessors apart from Mazzarri, (who was the only one with cojones to dare putting his Majesty Lorenzo on the bench)has to play this spoiled brat no matter how badly plays. Napoli is not manged professionally, it is not serious to have protected signorinas, play all your matches with 10 men against 12 and expect to win the scudetto, worse, and make your best player "Ciro Mertens"pay for it, .
on the 26th July, 2020 at 3:02pm
Considering Napoli outplayed Juventus twice this year, as well as AC Milan, Inter Milan and have cruised through their Champions League group under prior to Gattuso, it's unwise to think they can not do a job on Barcelona.

There is talent all over the park at Napoli. Atalanta (the most in form team in Italy) are the only team that gave Napoli any trouble in Italy. Barcelona will play in an empty stadium so the conditions will be right for Napoli.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 1:43pm
Only a naive person would believe that Napoli have ANY chance at the Camp Nou. Given that Barcelona have lost the Liga title, they'll be out for blood and try to go as far as they can in Europe.

Looking at history, Juventus are the only Italian club to have defeated Barcelona at the Camp Nou, in 2003, courtesy of a Marcelo Zalayeta goal in ET. Barcelona haven't lost at Camp Nou since 2012 (Bayern 3-0).

Napoli should try to force ET, but I'm sure the score will end up 4-1 for Barca.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 12:00pm

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