Five Talking Points from Bologna vs Napoli
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always pretty, but Napoli managed to overcome Bologna with a 3-0 scoreline, stealing two goals right at the end to make the score look a lot better than it should have. Here are the main points that stand out:
1. Reina Stands Tall
Reina has gotten his fair share of criticism from everyone since the end of last season. Whether it was because of last year’s performances or his antics when PSG came calling, most fans were worried when ADL did not secure a reserve goalie in case Reina’s form dropped. On the basis of this performance, fans have nothing to worry about.
Reina made a fingertip save from Verdi in the first half on a brilliant freekick, and in the middle of the second half, he saved a crucial one on one shortly before Napoli scored their first goal of the match. He was imposing and confident, slowing down the pace and speeding it up at will from his goal. Perhaps it was still a smart move to buy a reserve goalkeeper of quality, but Napoli seem to be okay in goal- for now.
2. The Attack Looks Sluggish
The word ‘sluggish’ is hardly a word associated with Napoli’s attack, but yesterday they looked just that. Insigne looked very tired after completing two full games in under ten days for Italy. Callejon’s touch was not sharp, and Mertens looked void of ideas.
I understand why Sarri opted not to rotate for this match. Bologna away was always going to be tough after last year’s mauling of them, and the fact that Juve and Inter had won earlier made it a must win game. Even though the attack did not create as many chances as they usually do, eventually their persistence was rewarded with an excellent goal from Callejon and a well-deserved goal for Mertens. It wasn’t their best performance, but sometimes teams need to win ugly…
3. New and Improved Napoli in the Provinces
Carpi, Sassuolo, Palermo, Pescara, and Bologna were all teams Napoli had fallen short in front of in the past two seasons. The team used to struggle against their tight defenses, unable to sneak in a winning goal. Napoli struggled this time around as well, but with one major difference: they won.
If Napoli are to seriously challenge for the title, they must win these matches more than anything else. There is a saying in Italy that goes ‘the title is won in the provinces’, which holds a large degree of truth; the team has to collect the points against small teams as well as the big ones.
If we analyze the performances of the team the last two seasons, Napoli tend to get off to a slow start before firing up several months into the season. The play is not very fluid and some players are still very low on form, but consider this: the first three matches Napoli have scored nine goals and conceded two. Imagine how the team will look when they are playing well and back on form.
4. Midfield Rotation a Must
I won’t go ripping into Hamsik too much given that he has been trying his best. He still looks void of fitness, and strangely, confidence, but once it clicks with him I am sure he will be back to his best. However, even if Napoli can go through games with one struggling midfielder, two is too much.
Jorginho was very disappointing against Bologna. He lost most of his battles, and his passing was risk free and void of creativity. Napoli was lucky yesterday, but that will not always be the case in the future. Jorginho has to put more effort into developing himself physically if he wants to make it as a world class CDM. There are very rare exceptions to the rule, like Pirlo, but generally the regista must have a brilliant eye for the field and also be very strong.
In the meantime, I believe Diawara, Zielinski, and Allan need to start the next match. On form, they are the best three midfielders the team has, and the team has to be at their very best if they want to get anything out of next Wednesday’s match. After that Napoli plays Benevento at home, Lazio away, SPAL away, Feynoord at home, and Cagliari at home. All six midfielders should get plenty of minutes in their legs, but the key will be choosing the right midfielders for the right matches.
5. Sarri’s Contract Must Be Renewed
There are five coaches in the Serie A who earn more than Maurizio Sarri. It is rumored he has a petty release clause of 8 million euros. This is frankly ridiculous.
Napoli have made astronomical strides since Sarri has entered the club. Ghoulam has turned into an excellent attacking outlet (when will ADL renew his contract!?), Koulibaly has been transformed from a clumsy center back into a world beater, and other players such as Jorginho, Insigne, and Mertens have taken huge strides forward under him.
ADL would do well to remember where this team was during the last few games of the 2014/2015 season. The team is brimming with youth and potential, and Napoli’s tactics are catching the eyes of all Europe. This man needs a contract extension immediately, and if ADL won’t give it to him, the fans must be extremely vocal about it. Without him, everything we’ve built recently risks crumbling to pieces.