Napoli need a miracle to overturn a two goal deficit in the Champions League against Real Madrid, but have high hopes for a near unstoppable attack
The most elevated moment in Napoli’s recent history was reached in the eighth minute of the first-leg of their round of 16 tie against Real Madrid in the Champions League, when Lorenzo Insigne’s mad intuition gave the Partenopei an unexpected lead at the famous Santiago Bernabeu.
The lowest moment came shortly after the final whistle, when visiting president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, voiced his criticism towards his coach, Maurizio Sarri, after Napoli had gone on to lose the game 3-1.
De Laurentiis wanted Sarri to rotate the players more, convinced that all the investments in the summer and in January are worth being used more, whereas the coach loves to work on a solid block of players. But for the criticism to have come straight after such a harsh, yet acceptable, defeat in Madrid, seemed a bit out of place.
Napoli reached the first-leg in Madrid after 12 games without losing and have since lost two games and won two, the second of which being the absolutely vital 2-1 victory in Rome against the main rival for the second, which means direct access to Champions League football. It is fair to say Napoli aren’t doing badly this season.
On Tuesday night, Real Madrid travel to the San Paolo with that two goal advantage from the first game, and as much as it is almost impossible for Napoli to turn things around – as they would have to be perfect in defence – it is sure that the Partenopei will give it a go. The way they outplayed Roma on Saturday is the boost of confidence they needed to go into the return game against Real Madrid at their best.
Sarri’s football is attacking and all-involving, sublime to watch when at its best, with players combining quickly and swiftly and attacking the opposition goal as a team, ready to give an atypical centre forward like Dries Mertens the chances to be one-on-one with the goalkeeper. When it works – and it happens often – it is almost unstoppable.
Real Madrid have the quality and experience to crush Napoli, as we’ve seen in the first leg. Even Real Madrid’s youngest players know what it means to win the Champions League. This does make a difference. Napoli at the Bernabeu struggled to play fluidly and do what they do best going forward. Real Madrid’s ability to then score and put the game to bed did the rest.
However, the Partenopei remain one of the most up-and-coming clubs in Europe, a difficult opponent for anybody. One of the problems with their growth remains the lack of a stable environment in which to work in, and president’s De Laurentiis criticism is there to prove it. It is the kind of thing that can destroy months of work by psychologically killing a team. It didn’t happen, but to make this sorts of accusations to your manager immediately delegitimises his work and makes everything harder.
This is the final step Napoli have to make to become a big club and compete for the Serie A title first and then, who knows, maybe even bigger prizes. The game against Real Madrid will be yet another test, and with the Partenopei having nothing to lose, they could use it to their advantage to at least give the fans a night to remember.