Perhaps the military inspired away shirt was more suitable than the traditional blue for such an encounter as the Chievo match with the Partenopei quite simply out-gunning their opposition. A result which this week keeps the number one spot in the Serie A standings light blue.
The story of last Sunday’s game against the Flying Donkeys could be a repetitive one in the matches of Napoli this season. A story in which Rafael Benitez’s side carve out chances aplenty and convert them expertly, only to be pinned back by a stuttering and fragile defence.
Also with the greatest respect to Giuseppe Sannino’s team, far greater attacking threats await this season and Napoli will face much sterner tests defensively, especially when in involved in European competition.
Good news before Sunday’s game was that Gonzalo Higuain was available despite his accident in Capri, with only a plaster on his chin to show for the drama. The Argentine being tremendously influential in the match’s outcome getting on the score sheet to cap the victory and providing José Callejón with a pin point pass for Napoli’s second.
After the praise I heaped on Hamsik last week again he showed just how precious his performances are as he opened the scoring with a thunderous drive. His roar of celebration leading the travelling Partenopei fans who made the journey in good numbers. The Slovakian picking out the bottom corner of Christian Puggioni’s net leaving the Chievo backline shell-shocked.
After this strong start it was anything but business as usual as the Flying Donkey’s scored a gritty equaliser. Alberto Paloschi tapped home a great Perparim Hetemaj cross and after negotiating his way around the advertising hoardings, ran to the home crowd. A lapse in concentration and communication for the Napoli defence resulted in Partenopei sacrificing their lead but they responded well.
Parity lasted only five minutes until Rafael Benitez’s side took back the lead through Callejón, netting for the second consecutive game. Questionable defending was seemingly the theme of the day as it was now infecting the Flying Donkey’s backline. A misplaced pass being pounced upon by Higuain who picked out his former Real Madrid teammate Callejón, for an easy finish.
Napoli would however give up this lead again before the break, Paloschi bagging himself a brace after wriggling free of his marker to fire between Reina’s legs. The Spanish goalkeeper should be disappointed not to stop the shot at his near post but the also the defence for failing to clear and deal with sufficiently, a set piece.
Almost 20 minutes after the half time interval with tension building, some more haphazard defending from the hosts handed Napoli the lead again. Hamsik adding to his already growing goal tally with a vicious volley as the freshly shaven Mohawk sprung into life.
Higuain wobbled his way to Napoli’s fourth and the eventual three points. Not the smoothest performance that Napoli will put on but this vehicle is just stuttering into second gear.
Onto the Champions League draw which took place this week handing Napoli a truly tough group. Alongside the Partenopei in group F lie English Premier League side Arsenal, last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund and French side Marseille.
Perhaps in other groups teams will look at certain fixtures and anticipate that some encounters will be easier than others; however this group seems to have no ‘easy’ games and perhaps the most competitive group of this year’s competition. Incredible and hostile atmospheres will await Napoli on their travels around Europe so any points that can be mustered from these away matches will be a bonus.
This should not spread fear however. Last time that Napoli gained entry to the Champions’ League group stage they were gifted another tricky group, including Bayern Munich and Manchester City, but successfully negotiated their passage into the next stage of the tournament. This previous European experience should certainly inspire the Partenopei as they go in search of glory in this year’s event.
However, of the intimidating stadiums in this group and indeed the competition, a trip to the San Paolo is one that no team makes lightly and the true success of this competition will be determined by results at home. It has been a fortress in the league and with a passionate crowd packed to the rafters for a mid-week Champions League match-day; it can certainly be a stronghold and a sound basis for success in Europe.
With Rafael Benitez at the helm, who has countless experience in Europe’s elite club competition I predict that although it’s not going to be easy, Napoli will survive this and advance.
Questions remain about the strength of the defence and on the showing that was displayed on Saturday evening, thinks can certainly be improved. But with the transfer window now closed and reinforcements lacking in the defensive area this may be a lingering factor if Napoli cannot kick on this season and achieve silverware.
Challenges await but ones that Napoli can certainly overcome and there is still a sense of hope in the air around Naples.