Benitez’s Napoli reign starts with win
In the Spaniard’s first match with Inter in 2010, Benitez’s squad – fresh off a treble the season before under Jose Mourinho – were unable to overcome Bologna in a scoreless draw. However, on this occasion history did not repeat itself as his new club proved too strong for the Rossblu; as Benitez’s campaign to win back the respect he garnered prior to taking over the Nerazzurri rolls on.
The only remaining member of Il Trio delle Meraviglie, Marek Hamsik, led the Partenopei through what could have been a difficult first fixture as he scored two goals and cut apart Bologna’s defence all night.
Despite being a possibly difficult fixture, Napoli were always expected to end Sunday night with a win. None of the problems Napoli had against Bologna last term showed on this night and Benitez’s team looked incredibly exciting. In contrast, former coach Walter Mazzarri’s Inter were anything but exciting as the Italian cut a worried figure for much of the 90 minutes in Inter’s 2-0 win against Genoa.
Meanwhile, Napoli’s attack looked brilliant throughout their match with Bologna, but with only six shots on target from 16 taken, the Partenopei will have to improve their finishing. At times, the team looked to be unable to find their cutting edge in the final third, although that may have been down to it being the team’s opening fixture. Or perhaps Napoli were just spoiled by the expert finishing of Edinson Cavani.
Benitez has been afforded the opportunity to get his Napoli side up and running in Serie A before the club get their first true test. Chievo and Atalanta lay in wait for the Naples club before a showdown with AC Milan on September 22. The squad won’t face another elite member of Serie A until Roma, Fiorentina and Juventus clash with them in late October and early November.
This space in between fixtures with the big clubs will allow Napoli to recover from injury and could help them rebound from poor performances. Benitez’s time with Liverpool and Inter were littered with injuries to key players, and this time around he is at a club that can still fly just below the radar at times, thanks to their southern location and the hype that follows the clubs in Milan and Rome.
It’s hard to say if Benitez has learned from his previous mistakes that saw him dismissed by Internazionale after only half a season. The Spaniard spent over 18 months out of the game and was a nearly forgotten man during that time. When Chelsea brought him back in from the wilderness last November, Benitez seemed to have an air of professionalism that had escaped him in the years prior.
His abilities as a tactician have been questioned in recent times, but Sunday night’s match proved he can still get it right. Even with a new coach and a host of new players, Napoli looked as attacking as ever. Which is something many might not have expected from the Spanish coach. Benitez’s ability to be reactive, rather than proactive, has been one of his downfalls throughout his time as a top-flight coach.
But unlike at Liverpool, Inter and even Chelsea, Benitez has been given free-reign by Napoli president Aurelio Laurentiis. The players the club have signed this offseason, were players the coach wanted to augment his side rather than players he was expected to work with – though some Liverpool supporters may disagree that he had plenty of say in all his signings. This is a side that has at least one player, Hamsik, that Benitez wanted at Liverpool and another player, Pepe Reina, hat played for him with the Reds.
Napoli will have many more difficult fixtures in the coming weeks. Bologna are one team that is tipped to be relegated, or at the very least, to fight relegation. But in Benitez’s past coaching positions, these were the fixtures that the former Inter man had a real difficulty beating. Benitez nearly guided Liverpool to their first English Premier League title, only to be undone by a plethora of draws to lower table sides.
Right now, Benitez looks like a different man. Perhaps it is the humbling experience of being an unwanted manager, even when he was guiding Chelsea to a Europa League trophy last spring, or perhaps it’s just the evolution of a coach over time. Whatever it is, the coach on Napoli’s bench Sunday night looked different than that man that demanded transfers from Massimo Moratti in 2010. The new Benitez looks fresh and ready to give a serious challenge to Juventus and the Scudetto.
Unfortunately, Napoli’s true credentials won’t be tested for a few more weeks. That is, if the team can navigate what should be winnable fixtures prior AC Milan’s arrival at the San Paulo in late September.