A first defeat in three Serie A games for Napoli on Sunday afternoon saw them slip further away from the Europa League qualifying places as they failed to turn possession into points.
The Partenopei fell behind to a Gianluca Lapadula effort, which was against the run of play, before Arkadiusz Milik equalised early in the second half for the hosts.
With the scores level all signs pointed to Gennaro Gattuso’s men running away with the contest, but another goal from Lapadula and a wonderful freekick from Marco Mancosu ended any hopes of a win. A Jose Callejon strike just before full time brought some hope to a shocked Stadio San Paolo, but it was too little too late.
In the aftermath of the contest Gattuso said that he thought that a lack of aggression had cost his side on the day and it’s difficult to disagree with the former Italy international. That lack of aggression, coupled with an inability to create any real clear cut chances, showed that Gattuso’s team are still a long way off consistently competing at the top of Serie A.
Napoli now face a tough trip to Inter on Wednesday evening in the Coppa Italia and will need a vast improvement in all areas if they’re to breach the staunchest defence in Italy.
Gattuso was known as an uncompromising hardman in his playing days but it’s a trait that his side seemed unwilling to adopt as they struggled to deal with the physicality of Lecce.
Lapadula’s opener came directly after Matteo Politano and Giovanni Di Lorenzo were both out muscled inside their own half by Giulio Donati, the Lecce man showing more desire for a challenge.
The Salentini’s second again showed the same frailties as Di Lorenzo failed to win the physical battle with Lapadula inside the box, allowing the striker to nod home and give his side the lead.
Aggression may be something that Gattuso wants his team to show but it has to be controlled and it was a lack of control that sealed the Partenopei’s fate. Mario Rui’s rash challenge provided the opportunity for Mancosu to thunder a freekick past David Ospina, much to Gattuso’s disgust.
POSSESSION DOESN’T MEAN PRIZES
Keeping possession of the ball isn’t a guarantee that you will win games if you lack the ability to create chances and that was Napoli’s biggest flaw on the day, along with their lack of desire to win the physical battles.
There is no doubt that the hosts controlled the game, but of the seven shots they registered on target the majority were long range or tight angled efforts that were never going to beat Mauro Vigorito in the Lecce goal.
Fabio Liverani’s team deserve credit for the way they defended but a lack of creativity made for an easy afternoon for the Salentini back line.
The hosts relied on bombarding the visitors with balls into the box but, with the exception of Milik, they lack height in the front line and were never going to win the aerial battles.
MERTENS THE ONLY SHINING LIGHT
The introduction of Dries Mertens after the break breathed new life into a stagnant attack as his movement and willingness to run at defenders with the ball looked to be the key to unlocking the Lecce defence.
It was his darting run into the box that led to Milik’s equaliser, his pace was to much for Fabio Lucioni to handle and he played a perfect ball to the Polish striker’s feet.
He continued to be a danger whenever he touched the ball but with the rest of his team failing to possess his enthusiasm he faced a frustrating afternoon.
His performance raises questions as to why the club have yet to secure his services beyond the end of the season, as despite being 32-years-old he still represents Napoli’s most exciting attacking weapon.
A NIGHTMARE TRIP?
The manner of the defeat couldn’t have come at a worse time for Gattuso as he prepares to take his team to face Inter in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday evening.
Antonio Conte’s team will be flying high after their astonishing comeback win in the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday evening that saw them take top spot in Serie A.
Romelu Lukaku has shown how physically dominating he can be all season for the Nerazzurri and if Gattuso’s team fail to find the grit required to deal with the big striker they could be in for a tough time at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
A lack of creativity also won’t bode well for the Partenopei as, along with Lazio, Conte’s team possess the tightest defence in Italy and won’t crumble under a crude aerial assault.