Shakhtar Donetsk 2 – 1 Napoli | Match Reaction & Player Ratings

Napoli XI:

Reina; Hysaj, Albiol,, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski (Allan 67’), Diawara, Hamsik (Mertens 60′); Callejon, Milik, Insigne

Shaktar XI:
Pyatov, Srna, Ordets (Khotcholava 90’+2’), Rakitskyy, Ismaily, Fred, Stepanenko, Marlos (Kovalenko 77’), Taison, Bernard, Ferreyra (Dentinho 88’)


Taison 15’ Ferreyra 58’ Milik 71’ (pk)


When Sarri hinted at bringing forward a different attacking trident for tonight’s match I was doubtful and confused. Napoli have been firing on all cylinders since the season’s start, having scored 13 goals in 5 competitive matches. With that in mind it was difficult to understand why a new approach would be tested in a Champion’s league match. From the match’s kickoff it was evident that the approach taken was far removed from what we are used to seeing and quite frankly it was inefficient.

With Mertens on the bench, Napoli were using Milik as a more traditional striker. As opposed to Napoli’s habitual controlling midifield and surgically precise ground passing game, Sarri deployed an aerial attacking strategy that quickly become painfully predictable. Ghoulam would rush down the left hand side and whip in a ball hoping for it to meet Milik’s head. For a team that has showed prowess attacking on the ground aerial approach was difficult. Infinite crosses failed to secure anything other than infinite corner kicks – none of which were dangerous. Shaktar seemed to control much of the first half and came out of it with a well-deserved goal. In the first frame, Napoli could not establish any control in midfield and were picked apart at the back.

To start the second half, Napoli’s midfield remained unable to control possession calmly and the attack remained disjointed and toothless. They gave up another goal. Things only started to improve once Mertens came on. The team played with the ball at its feet and tried to find space. An improvement on the first half however is not enough to signify that the quality of play was sufficient. Napoli lacked incision and only had one real chance – aside from the penalty – a miss by Milik on an over the top ball from Diawara.

To lose is not disastrous but it will certainly hurt. If Napoli want to get out of this group they’re going to have to get going quickly. A performance like this in Manchester will end in thorough embarrassment. Luckily, Napoli have Benevento at the weekend to focus on now. Hopefully that serves as a chance to rotate the squad and rebuild the team’s confidence.

Match Ratings:

Reina (4.5): Reina was very poor today. His only saving grace is that he made a good save on Taison. Aside from that, he looked shaky at best. He should have done better on the first goal and looked like a lost Sunday league keeper out in no-man’s land on the second. He also struggled to catch a fairly mundane long shot late which led to a long period of control by Shaktar that ended up with them hitting the post off of a dangerous free kick. At this point, it is abundantly clear that Reina needs to be replaced. In fact – I have difficulty believing that Napoli’s internal options are worse shot stoppers than Reina.

Hysaj (6.00): Generally did his job defensively but did not offer very much attacking. He was solid – likely the most solid player in the back four – but unspectacular.

Albiol (5.75): He failed to close in on Taison to stop him from scoring the match’s opener. Other than that he was decently reliable.

Koulibaly (5): Was a fouling machine tonight. Koulibaly picked up a number of fouls before going into the book. Although he had some of his moments of trademark solidity and impressive tackling Koulibaly also left much to be desired. He failed to communicate with Ghoulam on the second goal and gave up free kicks in dangerous positions.

Ghoulam (5.5): Will get points for effort as he whipped in a plethora of crosses – that being said, very few of them were accurate. In fact, his most dangerous cross was only dangerous because of a near own goal. Also made a mistake in communication on the second goal.  

Zielinski (6): Made a few nice passes and tackles. Nothing terrible from him but nothing great either – somewhat of a non-factor.

Diawara (6.25): Had a very difficult start to the match. He was unable to retain possession early and made many mistakes. That said, as the match progressed he was increasingly influential. He provided a few dangerous balls that really were some of the only offensive sparks on the night.    

Hamsik (5.5): Also had a poor start. He was also responsible for a lack of control in midfield. He also got slightly better as the game went along but still far from his old self. To turn things around Napoli need the Hamsik of old.

Callejon (6): A decent performance from the Spaniard. He put in his usual defensive shift. He made himself available for his trade mark back post runs a couple of times. Insigne put it a bit too far the first time and he was unable to convert the second time. Credit to him for finding the space but Napoli needed a finish badly.

Milik (5.25): Milik did a decent job of making good runs but made a mess of a few situations. At the end of the day, being a striker is about finishing and I can count four chances – some better than others – that the Pole squandered.  Early in the match, Milik hit the side netting his off foot – not an unforgivable miss by any stretch but forcing a save at least would have been nice. Then, while running up the pitch on a quick counter with Insigne at the 40th minute Milik unforgivably went offside during an odd man rush – to compound the struggle he missed his would be finish. Then, Milik got past the defense on a quick Ghoulam throw only to fight off a centerback and have the keeper snatch up his heavy touch. Finally, Milik fired over from close late in the match after his touch let him down again. It is unrealistic to ask Milik to finish all or even most of those chances but a player of his caliber, on a team of this caliber, should have finished at least one.

Insigne (5.75): Insigne looked rather lost tonight. He had a few quality touches but ultimately provided very little. He was tired late in the match.


Mertens (6.5): By far the team’s best player. Clealry should have started. He allowed Napoli to play their game by controlling the ball at their feet. Also, he had some strong dribbles and drew the penalty which gave Napoli hope. Sarri must have learnt his lesson – Mertens cannot start UCL matches on the bench.

Allan (6.0): Brought on some energy, made few mistakes and had some good passes. Decent performance.  


  1. Disappointed that we throw away this game. But this exposed us as having little depth. Introducing a bench player ( Milik ) changes the rhythm of our attack and without Mertens we are toothless. Indeed Sarri should rotate more to ensure optimum fitness and readiness of everyone in the squad but Sarri has a dilemma. Rotating means risking drop points. This game proves it. Also, why isn’t he playing Onuas? He has looked promising in pre-season but has not played a single minute since.

  2. I think Sarri is one of the best in the world at teaching how football should be played. I think his weakness is man management and reading matches. He is very Mazzarri-like in his tendency to be fairly predictable with his starting 11. I think he could do better managing who plays and when. What’s the point of starting players that aren’t 100%? What signal does that give to the starter and the guy waiting behind him?

  3. The 3 midfielders were all very poor in the first 45 minutes. If Diawara would have been subbed off at halftime, I don’t think anyone would have questioned the move. That being said, I give him credit for finding his footing in the 2nd half.

    That’s now 3 games in a row with a below average first half. This time, we weren’t able to recover. Hopefully, playing Benevento this weekend can help cure that problem, but it’s definitely worrying to see it happening over and over.

  4. I agree the problem is Sarri’s selection. If he fixes that he will become the best coach in the world.

    1. Diawara should not have started in this game

    2. Hamsik has been horrible all season and needs to few a few games

    3. Against strong teams playing Zielinksi and Hamsik makes midfield light

    4. Benching Mertens and playing the incompetent Milik is stupid

    Sarri’s system only works with a world class skillful striker. It worked with Higuain and then we struggled until Mertens llayed there. Gabbiadini, Pavoletti and Milik all won’t cut it and the team looks toothless with them.

    Another problem I have is the right side. With Hysaj we just lack the quality we have on the left.

    Finally Reina really cost us the points. It was expected.

  5. I think you’re harsh on Hysaj. He isn’t asked to do on the right what Ghoulam does on the left. He isn’t required to attack as much. Our most skillful players are on the left side of the pitch so we naturally try to play through them.

    Milik was perhaps even more impressive than Mertens at the start of last season. The problem is that any forward depends heavily on confidence but I think Milik is one of those players who suffers severely when he doesn’t have it. I think he has the skill and I don’t think it’s a physical thing either. I hope he gets to realize some of that potential we saw in him. It’s really difficult at this point because any time he hits the pitch now he’s facing a ton of pressure to produce.

    • I am willing to concede on Hysaj but he needs competition.

      Even last year I did not find Milik impressive. He scored a few goals but does little in the game unlike Pipita or Mertens. We want to win the scudetto and go to quarter finals in CL. We don’t have time for His possible confidence issues. Y

  6. Nothing much to add. Starting Milik instead of Mertens is the mistake that doom us. Milik is simply not on the same level while Mertens if starting guarantee us almost one goal per game. God help us if Mertens gets injured.

    We can only try to do better next few games. If my memory serves me right, we also lost some games during last year UEFA Grp stage but still end up topping the group. 5 more games to go.

  7. Not a good game …..if i compare games vs Nice and this one. I think Hamsik need a rest 1-2 match will recover his skills , Diawara is defensive midfielder I dont think he was worst , Zielinsky was fast invisible in 1st Half. Actually I think Allan form is best he should start , Mertens aswell , Milik is out of form he should get chances in league vs newcomers. I wonder about how many corners napoli have in this match but even with good Khoulibaly and Albiol no danger from them.

  8. I think focus on individual players is big mistake because everyone played bad. I think players underestimated opponent, they played like against weakest team from Serie A. Players didn’t work hard from beggining of the match and it was biggest problem. It is easy to say that Sarri is weak in man managment but I disagree with that. These things happen in every team so then we can say every coach is weak in man managment but we don’t see data and trainings. Maybe Diawara and Milik were great in the training, I think it was right decisision because we needed to rest Jorginho and also Jorginho had poor last game so it was right to give a chance to Diawara. I can agree that put Zielinski together with Hamsik doesn’t work very good, but I agree with other Sarri’s choises. It is easy to say what was wrong after match, but before match I had a good feeling about starting lineup. Yes Reina made mistakes, but every GK make mistakes, I want to see what would you say if we would have for example Rulli now and he would made same mistakes yesterday. I think then you would blame ADL that he bought bad keeper. I think Sarri see very well where are problems and I totally agree with him:

    We need to work harder and be more focused in every minute of the match as a whole team, IMO it is a key to success.

  9. I always find Hysaj to be unfairly rated by the fans. He isn’t asked to attack very much and he makes few mistakes in coverage. He was the only defender that wasn’t consistently exposed yesterday. His rating is by no means good. As for Milik he was the second lowest rated outfield player so I’m not sure how that could be considered an over-rating. I gave him credit for getting into scoring chances but ultimately he made a mess out of them so he lost points.

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