After impressing so much at the weekend when they pummelled Atalanta 4-1 at the San Paolo, expectations were high heading into Napoli’s Europa League fixture with AZ Alkmaar.
Unfortunately for coach Gennaro Gattuso and his men, the Eredivisie side did not read the script and shocked the Azzurri by snatching a 1-0 win.
The Campanians have now lost their last four Europa League games in a row, while scoring just once in that run and none in their last three. This is a competition they can be accused of underperforming in, just like the rest of the clubs of Serie A down through the years. Excluding Inter’s final appearance in the summer, no Italian side has reached the showpiece since Parma beat Olympique Marseille in 1999.
The San Paolo faithful will say this was a performance they are well used to witnessing, when a so-called smaller club turns up and plays uber defensive for the entirety of the game only to catch the Partenopei on the break. This tie was reminiscent of a midweek league fixture against a Chievo or even last season’s 1-0 defeat to Cagliari.
Could Gattuso’s side be accused of cockiness and taking this game lightly against a team that had to leave nine players at home due to positive Coronavirus tests? Possibly.
The Neapolitans can be guilty of yet another Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde week in football, the highs of the weekend and the lows of a disappointing home defeat in Europe.
Compared to last Saturday’s match against the Orobici,, their passing and movements were much slower, the hunger and desire not as ravenous in Europe. Excuses could be made about the state of the pitch and the penalty call not given, however, that still does not change the fact that Napoli did not create enough clear-cut goal scoring chances to trouble AZ.
Last weekend, a lot was made of that win against Atalanta and questions were posed about the possibilities of Napoli winning the Scudetto.
If the Azzurri are to be truly considered as a title challenger this year, they will need to figure out a way to break down teams that are happy to play with 11 men behind the ball. Gattuso and his men still have plenty of work to do to change that affliction that has plagued them in recent years.