Napoli have been great in Serie A, but they have been simply amazing in the Europa League. On Thursday, Napoli beat Midtjylland 5-0 at the Stadio San Paolo and qualified for the second round of the tournament after just four games in the group stages.
Maurizio Sarri’s team has scored 16 goals so far, 14 from open play and just two from set pieces. Possibly even more impressive: Napoli have conceded just one goal (a deflected shot at Midtjylland), further proof that Sarri has his team lined up perfectly on both ends of the pitch.
For Napoli, it has been a remarkable tournament so far and Sarri has done it using mostly reserves. For example, Manolo Gabbiadini and Dries Mertens have combined to score seven goals in Europe, while both share just four starts between them during the opening 11 rounds in Serie A.
Mertens was out against Midtjylland but Gabbiadini once again showed his talent. He bagged two goals, using his excellent timing and positional play. True striker goals. Meanwhile, the little-used Omar El Kaddouri built on his solid game in Denmark (two assists) to score the opener after a beautiful pass from Lorenzo Insigne. The Belgian made a great run forward, a talent he has used every time he’s got the chance to play.
Insigne himself had a great game. The playmaker dominated the first half. Midtjylland fell back in defence, with eight or nine players behind the ball. Napoli showed patience and kept passing. When Insigne touched the ball, he used his quick feet to create space and be dangerous with a push forward or pass.
The same was true for the other guy with the low socks, Marek Hamsik. Napoli controlled the tempo, with the Slovakian asking for the ball quite deep for his position. With simple triangles and a higher pace, Napoli broke the visitor’s defence. The second goal of the match was a prime example of this tactic.
Insigne and Hamsik are regular starters for Napoli, but their depth also showed at the back. Mirko Valdifiori, the third player with rolled-down socks, didn’t make a ground breaking appearance but just did his job. He had a passing success rate of 96 per cent and, together with David Lopez, prevented Midtjylland getting into a rhythm. And even right-back Christian Maggio scored a goal, because Sarri wants his defenders to push forward.
Napoli keep going strong and have now scored 32 goals in their last 12 competitive matches, conceding just three. That’s a +29 goal difference. With enough depth at nearly every position on the field and a couple of key difference makers, there’s no reason to believe this team can’t compete for a treble: Scudetto, Coppa Italia and Europa League.