If a defeat to Juventus on Friday night was bad enough for Napoli, then on Sunday afternoon it got worse as Inter demolished Chievo and lost their place on top of the Serie A table as a result.
This is the third season Maurizio Sarri has been coaching the Partenopei and despite earning plaudits for playing entertaining football, they have not been able to break Juve’s recent hegemony in Italy.
For this Napoli side to leave a place in history and leave a legacy, they must win the scudetto under Sarri and to do that they cannot keep dropping points over their rivals for the Serie A title.
So far the fight for the scudetto has been a close one and the Neapolitans have only dropped points three times in the opening 15 rounds: the 0-0 draw against current league leaders Inter at home, then another 0-0 against bogey side Chievo, and the 1-0 defeat at home to the Bianconeri on Friday.
It would have been an improbable task for Napoli to have won all 15 league fixtures up to now but dropping points to the Nerazzurri and the Bianconeri at the Stadio San Paolo is not ideal simply because they are the Partenopei’s two biggest threats.
Both Inter and Juventus defended in numbers against the Neapolitan side and relied on counterattacks to create scoring opportunities whenever possible. La Vecchia Signora were more successful than the Biscione in that regard, with Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala commencing the counterattack which provided Gonzalo Higuain with the chance to score the solitary goal of the match.
Sarri’s teachings came unstuck against Inter and Juventus and his possession-based style was not able to overcome the defensive walls created by their northern Italian rivals. Whether he needs to tinker with his system or certain players need to tweak their approach, the 58-year-old must discover ways to crush such tight and organised defensive systems.
The philosophy of Sarri has become known as “Sarrismo”, which has been eulogised by Manchester City tactician Pep Guardiola among others, and Napoli’s style of play has been compared to the great AC Milan sides of the late 1980s and early 1990s under Arrigo Sacchi.
Although the Ciucciarelli have earned plaudits for their attacking play, it will not be remembered fondly in history if it cannot win silverware.
There are some teams in the history of football like Hungary in 1954, The Netherlands in 1974 and Brazil in 1982 that are remembered for their exciting play but in Italy those types of teams are often swept under the carpet. The aforementioned Milan of Sacchi played great football but they won the 1987-88 Serie A title as well as consecutive European Cup Finals in 1989 and 1990.
Former Napoli coach Luis Vinicio praised Sarri’s team before the Juventus game and compared them to the Partenopei teams he coached in the mid-1970s.
“It is a purposeful Napoli which seeks goals and wins through organisation like mine did,” he told La Repubblica.
Another comparison that can be made is that Napoli failed to win a trophy under Vinicio and their best result in Serie A under his tutelage was second in 1974-75, which is something that Sarri must improve on. Although Vinicio’s Ciuccirelli squads could entertain, they are not remembered like the ones Diego Maradona played in during the 1980s because they did not win silverware.
In Italy the belief is that the result is the only thing that counts so if Napoli do not win their third scudetto soon, “Sarrismo” will just fade into obscurity instead of leaving a mark on Italian football like Sacchi’s Milan did.