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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Napoli 3-1 Chelsea: Napoli's side of the story

In Naples, you can find a pizza named after Edinson Cavani. But if you happened to go there after their 3-1 victory over Chelsea in the Champions League, you will be able to find many more of the smallest things possible with Napoli colors on it, particularly Cavani, such as a cookie tin (in the pic above). That's what Napoli, the club, means to the people of Naples. Therefore it was hardly a surprise for Chelsea to find such an intimidating atmosphere in the San Paolo stadium on Tuesday night. A sold out (well, almost) crowd displaying banners, extraordinary choreography and crackers were a sight to behold, something which makes the Champions League so special.

It isn't difficult to predict Napoli's starting eleven for the big games, so was on Tuesday. Walter Mazzarri's 3-4-1-2 has come under a lot of criticism recently in Italy, not because it wasn't successful but for the fact that Napoli struggled to beat smaller teams in the league, or in other words, lack of a plan B. In fact, everybody in Italy seems to have noticed the success Napoli and Udinese had with the three men defence last season that at one point SerieA had eleven of the twenty teams lining up with a back three in a week.

Moving on to the game, apart from the occasion, it was also interesting to see how Napoli would fare against the London giants because this is one club in serieA which is the most 'English' you would find. A strong physical side with pace and good wing backs is helped further by the amazing trio of Hamsik, Lavezzi and Cavani. Even though the majority of the squad cannot be called technically good with the ball, the same cannot be said of the front three. It's often their brilliance that provides the solution in the form of goals. The match started in typical Napoli style, Gargano and Inler pressing hard and recovering the possession and then launching a counter attack. The route to counter attack was often through Lavezzi's pace. His unpredictable turns and runs, early on, gave an indication to Chelsea of what to expect over the two legs. You would be forgiven if you were wondering which was the Premier League side of the two.

In the beginning it looked like Cavani wasn't having a good game at all, missed a good chance within the 20th minute and his first touches seemed heavy. But like all good strikers, he is someone who can find the net even when he isn't having a good game. He prowls around the penalty area, like a tiger (even if De Laurentiis likes to call his squad as a group of lions), and if he senses any pass coming his way, he's there to bury it. His goal conversion rate is steadily improving ever since he made the move from Palermo. The real test for Napoli, however, was how they would get back into the game after going a goal down in the 27th minute. It was a test of their character. The goal could have hampered the confidence of the team, given it arrived from an individual error from their captain Paolo Cannavaro. These are the moments in the game when the individual skill or talent comes into picture. Lavezzi's perfect shot found the equaliser in the 39th minute. There was no looking back for Napoli then, who started to believe in themselves. As often, Napoli's game is more about spirit and energy than tactics. Cavani soon took the lead in the 45th minute.

Things were relatively easier for the Azzurri in the second half. Chelsea's erratic defending meant Napoli could find a third in the 65th minute. But there were two key parts in the game, the first being Aronica's last ditch tackle on Drogba in front of De Sanctis. Drogba looked certain to beat the goalkeeper if it wasn't for Aronica. The second was Ashley Cole's goal line clearance off a weak shot from Maggio. Both the instances were so decisive in the game, that it could have completely changed the nature of the game, and the result of course.

Napoli could hold on nervously without letting in a goal over the last few minutes, to script a famous win. The fans of San Paolo have experienced quite a few moments like these in the last couple of years. Their beloved team have constantly defied the odds, and have now scored three goals against top opposition like Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus this season.

So what next for Napoli?

It's still uncertain whether Napoli will get into the quarterfinals but it's intriguing to see which path Napoli tries to take on from here. Third spot in serieA is still up for grabs, due to the poor run of results from Lazio and Inter adding to an injury hit Udinese. But on the longer term, whether De Laurentiis will stick with his attacking trio and how he brings about squad depth and further quality to the side, remains to be seen. There are concerns because it's difficult to find another set of players complementing the rest of the squad in their nature of play as much as the present trio do, should they be sold. Success, as they say, brings in a lot of expectations too.


  1. they are perfectly well set up for the return leg with all the attacking impetus on Chelsea to try and make things happen to overcome the deficit.
    but their position in serieA and form since winter break are not as impressive as their CL showings. Wonder what will happen to the star players if they do not qualify for the CL next year.

  2. I had this in mind to illustrate how similar this is to Spurs' run in CL last season. And then spurs breaking into top four in PL. So many things to write, sometimes I end up missing the most interesting of points!

  3. Wasn't it a 3-4-2-1 rather than a 3-4-1-2?

  4. It depends. But in reality, everywhere it's mentioned differently. And it changes from game to game. It's difficult to distinguish between the two because all the three contribute defensively a great deal. For me, Lavezzi is a pure second striker and Hamsik a trequarista-like midfielder. So it's more 3-4-1-2 than 3-4-2-1. And they exchange more number of passes between Cavani and Lavezzi, their one-twos convinced me it's 3-4-1-2.