Somehow, incredibly, Napoli ran out 4-1 winners vs Lazio in Rome. In the first half, Napoli were really lucky that Reina was not given a straight red card when he tackled Immobile in a one on one 30 yards outside of goal considering he looked like the last man. Lazio held firm, passed calmly at the back, and hit our high defensive line where it hurts. Lazio were up 1-0 and things were not looking good.
At the beginning of the second half, Stephan De Vrij was substituted, presumably to injury. Ten minutes later, Napoli equalized from a corner through Koulibaly. From that point forward it was back to Sarri football as we know it. Here are five big talking points from the match.
Reina Blunders Badly
For Lazio’s goal, Ciro Immobile got past K2 and crossed into the box. Stephen De Vrij volleyed it into the ground, and Reina’s weak punch only helped the ball in. The goal was not completely his fault, but he could’ve done much more to prevent it.
At the beginning of the match Reina went for a 50-50 with Immobile in the box. The referee gave him the benefit of the doubt, and although it looks like the referee made the right call, it was a risky play by the Napoli shot stopper. Less than twenty minutes later, Reina was lucky once more when he slid into Immobile for what should’ve been a straight red card. Somehow we survived.
At this point we’re not going to buy a goalie in January, and even if we did Sarri would not play him. The best we can hope for is that Reina trains extra hard and that he studies his errors and tries to avoid them in the future. Having said that, Reina would not have had to sprint out thirty yards from his goal to meet Immobile had there been defenders to do that…
Defensive High Line Scares
In Napoli’s high pressure football, the defense is asked to stand at the halfway line or five, at most ten meters behind it. The idea behind doing this is that the midfield can press forward, and the forward line can start pressing the center backs and goalie, giving the opposition no time and no room to play the ball. The theory is wonderful and can be applied versus small teams without too much worry, but against bigger teams it must be used with extreme caution.
Lazio broke through the half way line a good four or five times in the first half. Maggio slid back with a last second tackle for one attack, and Koulibaly cleared at the last moment from another attack. However, had that moment with Reina resulted in a red, the game would’ve been over in the first half.
Sarri must accept the fact that during some high profile games we will need to sit back and defend for a certain period of the match. There has to be more flexibility with our defenders and their positioning, especially seeing as that Raul Albiol is not very quick. Move the defense line back if you need to do so, absorb the pressure, hit on the counter attack, and once the players have regained some energy push forward. But if the team pushes forward when they’re tired they will pay; thankfully, today we got away with it.
In the fifty ninth minute Mertens rushed forward to try to reach a… watch the goal. No really, watch it: The goal that Mertens scored is one of the best I’ve seen in recent Napoli history.
— Napolism (@Napolism_) September 20, 2017
Big matches are often decided in little moments. Mertens went for something beyond audacious and it paid off. Had he not scored, we would’ve been 2-1 with still thirty minutes to go. But he did score, and instead we were 3-1 up, Lazio were shocked, and the winds were in our sails with a half hour until the final whistle. Take a bow, son.
The Passing Conundrum
One of the small details from the first half was the goal we conceded. Lazio played a corner in, the ball hit the post, and then Callejon tried to pass it out from the back. The ball was taken by a Lazio player, Ciro was put through, and a second later the stadium was rocking.
Napoli’s current game is built on passing football. It is beautiful to watch and it is highly effective at wearing down opposition players as well. However, in times of need, it is so much better to boot the ball clear and push forward. On a positive note, there were several instances in the second half where Albiol, Koulibaly, and Maggio decided to play it safe. We aren’t going to start seeing Napoli constantly booting the ball forward, but the more errors we see, the more we’ll second guess if we should always take so many risks at the back. Of course when it all works out perfectly, there’s nothing to do but applaud.
To Rotate or Not to Rotate?
In the wake of today’s match it becomes more baffling why we went out with a full strength team vs Benevento on Sunday. Now that we have had almost the same starting eleven play two matches in the space of four days, Sarri has some big decisions to make in the next ten days.
Napoli play Spal away on Saturday, host Feyenoord on Tuesday in the Champions League, and then play Cagliari the following Sunday at the San Paolo before the international break.
The key match will be against Spal. If Sarri does not rotate against them but plays the substitutes in the Champions League, then it is very obvious where his priorities are. However, given that Spal have just been promoted, we could look to rest some of the key starters such as Ghoulam, Mertens, and Insigne. Sarri could also opt to field a team mainly composed of substitutes, something that would make sense on paper but he would probably not opt for. And yet, despite the fact that the matches keep on coming one after the other, I have a hunch that Sarri will play his best eleven for all three matches with very few changes- but that remains to be seen.