Five Talking Points from Napoli vs Atalanta
Make no mistake, Napoli were very lucky in this match. Atalanta could’ve easily been 2-0 up in the first half. And yet, unlike last season, Napoli managed to fight back. What changed?
Sarri’s substitutions were brilliant. He often leaves his changes till late in the game, but this time around, he was spot on with changing the three midfielders, and at the right times in the match too. Allan helped regain control over the match (more on that one shortly), Rog scored a beautiful goal, and Diawara was monstrous in front of the defense.
That, and the famous ‘winning mentality’ finally began to show. The players had a real grit about them in the final third; especially in the second half, the players made it clear they were not going home without a fight. And fight they did.
For the fourth game in a row, the team improved massively after Hamsik left the field. His passes went astray, he did not track back, and his shooting was tame. I love Hamsik. He is the team’s captain and a symbol of the club. However, despite his importance for the club, something is clearly wrong.
I don’t want to be dramatic, but I think he should start Shakhtar’s game on the bench in place for Zielinski. Hamsik can cruise through the odd Serie A match, but for this match in particular the team will have to be ready to run. In the meantime, Sarri needs to sit with the staff and identify where the problem is coming from. I’m sure it is nothing that can’t be fixed, but it needs to be attended to immediately.
3. Midfield Struggles
In the first half in particular, Napoli struggled to create clear cut chances. This was largely due to the fact that Mertens had to drop deep, creating a crowd in the middle of the pitch with no target man to hit. Atalanta’s players were excellent in stopping our short pass and move game by suffocating us up the pitch. Had it not been for Zielinski’s wonder goal, Napoli might have not scored at all.
Our style of play has been memorized by the players and most opposition defenses as well- even if many don’t know how to stop it. I don’t believe this will be the last time we are suffocated on the other side of the pitch. One thing Sarri could look to do is to switch tactics mid game depending on how deep the defense is playing. Shooting from outside the box, swinging in crosses with three to four players inside the box (including Hamsik), and playing a 4-2-3-1 are all options. This time we were fortunate to win. Next time we might not be so lucky.
4.The San Paolo Roars
The San Paolo is always loud, but yesterday it was back to its rage of old. For the last couple of seasons most matches have been quieter than usual; nothing has quite matched Mazzari’s era of madness (excluding the Champions League of course). However, particularly after we scored the first goal yesterday, the stadium absolutely erupted. It was wonderful to see fans whistle and challenge every ball that wasn’t ours, and provide that special burst of energy when we were in possession. If we are to achieve greatness this season, the fans will need to be there every step of the way.
5.Poor Summer Transfers Leave Napoli on The Edge
Pepe Reina was on the verge of leaving, and there was no substitute in sight. Even now that he looks like he’ll stay, there will be nobody to back him up except for an unproven Sepe. If Hysaj were to suffer a serious injury, Maggio would be our only starting RB. If something happens to Insigne for even a month, we cannot play with Mertens as a striker unless we want to start with Giaccherini.
It was understandable that we did not move for players until we guaranteed the Champions League money. But why didn’t we agree with clubs transfers before the Nice match and sign them right after it?Why was no one short listed so that we could move for them this week. Our transfer policy has been a mess this summer. I only hope we go for last second fixes the next two days. If not, we will be walking on thin ice the next few months.
On the bright side, we are in the Champions League, we have won our first 2 matches in Serie A (for the first time since the 2013 season), and we beat Atalanta. It could’ve been worse.