STADIO MARC’ANTONIO BENTEGODI (VERONA) – It has been quite the ride for Chievo, but the Flying Donkeys crashed down to earth as a 3-1 defeat against Napoli has ended their time in Serie A.
The result in Verona was going to be decisive at one end of the table or the other, with anything other than a Napoli win confirming Juventus’ eighth consecutive Scudetto while Chievo failing to pick up three points would see their fate sealed – and so it proved.
Always the underdogs in the top tier of Italian football, the Gialloblu soared as high as achieving Champions League football during their stay, which was interrupted by a one-year absence as they were relegated that same season. But now damage limitation will be a priority and the slope could be slippery outside of Serie A as their 11-year spell ends.
There was always going to be an early goal between these two, and it was a safe assumption to make that it would be the visitors who got it. Ahead of the weekend’s action Napoli had scored more goals in the opening 15 minutes than anyone in Serie A (17), while Chievo had leaked the most in that time (15). Just as it looked like the Veronese were safe, a corner was headed home by Kalidou Kouliably to continue both trends.
The truth is that the Partenopei could had taken an even earlier lead. Their first chance fell to Piotr Zielinski after just five minutes. Lorenzo Insigne found space on the left and played his favourite pass out to the right for Dries Mertens to knock the ball down into Zielinski’s path but the Pole fired over.
Mertens then took his turn to send one over the crossbar. Koulibaly picked out Faouzi Ghoulam on the left wing – a space that never seemed to be occupied by a yellow shirt – and he in turn found Mertens arriving at the edge of the box but the Belgian couldn’t quite get over the ball and his half-volley never troubled Stefano Sorrentino.
Kouliably’s defensive partner Vlad Chiriches should have joined him on the scoresheet ten minutes later but somehow managed to head wayward with what was a relatively straightforward chance from close range.
Napoli were in complete control for the rest of the first half and moved the ball effortlessly as Chievo struggled to get close to them.
Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik toyed with Chievo on the hour mark, knocking the ball to one another and moving swiftly around the area. Somehow squirming his way through, the captain squared for Milik but his prodded effort just wouldn’t stay down for what would have been a surfire goal of the month contender.
Within a matter of minutes MIlik made amends. Following some good work from Zielinski, Milik gathered the ball in space 25 yards from goal, he had the time to turn and effortlessly finesse a low shot into Sorrentino’s bottom corner.
Koulibaly made it three inside the final ten minutes as he was in the right place to fire home a loose ball that Sorrentino and his defenders couldn’t properly deal with.
If the writing wasn’t already on the walls, that proved the final straw for a number of home fans who began to make their swift exits.
As the rain started to pour, Bostjan Cesar grabbed a late consolation goal with what was to be the game’s final action.
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It would have been understood if Ancelotti had played with a slightly weakened team at the Bentegodi, but the Partenopei boss didn’t give his stars any rest, not that it looked like they needed it.
Chievo proved little more than a training exercise for Napoli as they played keepball for the majority of the afternoon.
Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon were afforded some rest in the second half as they were withdrawn with Ancelotti’s attention turning to the Europa League.
All good things must end
Relegation has been knocking on the door for Chievo for some time now, and not just this season. It has appeared inevitable since their points deduction ahead of this campaign getting underway that this would finally be the season they fell through the trapdoor, and so it has played out.
For years, the Veronese have clung on to their top-flight status by their fingertips, but 2018/19 was one obstacle too many.