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