Perhaps Napoli has spoiled me. I mean we completely dominated the first leg of our Champions League preliminary but I’m a bit worried.
First off, I love this side. We’ve become so accustomed dominating matches that it doesn’t really surprise or completely please me anymore. We play beautiful football. Just look at how we moved the ball around on the lead up to the penalty kick. It’s impressive stuff! In terms of build up, we’ve continued to display the same sort of cohesive football that we drew praise for throughout last season. In fact, I get the feeling that we may have even improved in that facet. There were times during yesterday’s match that the team looked like they were on the practice pitch and forced to play with only two touches.
On the other hand, one of the main criticisms you could lay on the side last year was it’s inability to get out from a match what they deserved. Too often we’d see our boys create a slew of chances only to emerge at the end of it all with a point or worse. We’d completely outclass the opposition, but the scoreline wouldn’t accurately reflect that fact. It may seem like a harsh criticism but it’s true and one that was echoed by the in-match commentators here in the USA and even Sarri after. Yesterday Napoli should have brought an even greater lead into the second leg against Nice. While a 2-0 lead is good, it’s far riskier than 3-0.
Taking the next step
If we want to seriously compete for silverware this coming season then we are going to have to get better at finishing our chances. It’s that simple. As we climb the ranks of Italian and European football the expectations and standards are higher and there is no doubt that along with limiting the lapses in concentration on the defensive side, we will have to get better maintaining focus in front of goal. The best sides only need a chance or two a match to get the result, we shouldn’t need 10. If we want to be in the thick of things come May, we’ll have to to improve there. Part of the “winning mentality” we so often discuss is realizing the importance of finishing each and every single chance you get. At times the team gives me the impression of being just a bit too lackadaisical in taking its chances. I’d like to see a bit more cynicism and determination in that regard. While I now believe that the team enters the pitch on every occasion looking to dominate the match, it’s in front of goal where the next step forward may lie.
The optimistic view
I’ve already said that at times throughout the summer the side has looked even sharper than last year. It’s still only late summer and it’s also been apparent that the boys aren’t yet at the top of their physical form and that the hotter weather has certainly taken its toll as well. As we gain match form, it’s expected that we’ll improve on our conversion rate as well. If we can do that, then all the big talk by fans and players leading up to the season will be fully justified.