Napoli’s Champions League campaign got off to a rocky start on Wednesday, as their late comeback proved too little too late in a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Maurizio Sarri’s men entered the match having won all their competitive fixtures so far this season, but an early Taison strike and Facundo Ferreyra’s header after the restart looked as though they would send the Ukrainian side on their way.
Arkadiusz Milik, who was given the nod ahead of Dries Mertens, scored from the penalty spot in the 71st minute to seemingly reopen the match, but the Italian side failed to make the most of the lifeline, leaving Napoli with an uphill climb in Group F after just one matchday thanks to Manchester City’s 4-0 win over Feyenoord in the other contest.
Things looked dicey for the Partenopei from the start as Shakhtar came flying out the gates, with Taison firing just wide of the mark. Milik did the same soon after, but it was the home side who would strike first in the 15th minute.
Ferreyra flicked Darijo Srna’s low pass on to the feet of Taison, and the Brazilian fired into the bottom from the edge of the box to make it 1-0.
It was nearly 2-0 moments later as a misplaced Marek Hamsik backpass found the feet of Taison once again, however Pepe Reina rushed out and denied the Shakhtar man with his feet.
From there Napoli pushed forward, winning several corners but never really threatening Andriy Pyatov’s goal. In fact, it was Shakhtar that nearly levelled the scoreline themselves as Ordets sliced at a Faouzi Ghoulam cross in the area that went just wide of his own goal.
Lorenzo Insigne fired a trademark curler on goal just before half-time, but Pyatov was alert and tipped the ball out for a corner to close out the opening 45 minutes.
The shock result was well and truly on in the 58th minute when Ferreyra doubled Shakhtar’s advantage.
An innocuous cross from Taras Stepanenko was misjudged by Reina, allowing the Argentine to head the ball into the goal to the delight of the home fans at the Metalist Stadium.
As a result Sarri brought on Mertens in place of Marek Hamsik, and while the Belgian fired a shot on goal straight away, the change failed to ignite an immediate response from the Partenopei.
What did bring them back to life was some rough stuff that saw Insigne and Fred pick up yellows, while a silly Stepanenko challenge on Mertens left the referee with no option but to give Napoli a penalty.
Milik stepped up and calmly fired home to make it 2-1 with 19 minutes remaining, however their dreams of a comeback were nearly dashed when Ferreyra hit the bar and Kovalenko’s rebound was stopped by Reina in the 83rd minute.
Napoli marched down the other way and Milik looked to have the equalizer within his grasp, but he skied his effort over the bar from close range. It turned out to be the away side’s best chance at a point, as Sarri’s men were forced to settle for a disappointing 2-1 defeat on the night.
Napoli will need an immediate response when they do battle with Feyenoord on September 26, while Shakhtar travel to England for a clash with Manchester City.
- Fourth defeat for Napoli in their last seven Champions League matches: two draws, and only one victory.
- Napoli conceded the same number of goals (2) tonight that they had in all of their previous five matches this season.
- Two of the four goals Napoli have conceded have come in the 15th minute: like Taison’s tonight.
- Taison’s goal was only his second in 22 Champions League appearances.
- Arkadiusz Milik has scored seven goals in 10 starts for Napoli in all competitions.
- Marek Hamsik has been substituted six times in six matches for Napoli this season, with all of them coming between the 58th and 66th minute.
- Napoli’s last six goals have all come with Hamsik not on the field.
- Five shots on goal for Lorenzo Insigne, three of which were on goal: both numbers led the match.
- Only Bayern Munich (13) won more corners than Napoli (11) on matchday 1, and only Real Madrid (32) had more crosses from open play than the Azzurri (23).