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Napoli 2-1 Dortmund: Luck had little to do with it

While the visitors didn't look as impressive as they did last season, Dortmund also didn't present a weak opponent for Napoli. Most things didn't go the Germans' way, but to say the partenopei were lucky is to diminish their strong performance.

Paolo Bruno

It was luck that created the fortunes of the three Italian sides playing in Serie A this week. It was bad luck -- not inadequate preparation or Antonio Conte's strange substitutions -- that had Juventus leaving Denmark with just a point against Copenhagen. It was good luck that created two late goals for AC Milan -- ok, that might be true, as the first was an own goal from Celtic, which saw the wind taken out of their sails. And it was luck, and the blessing of patron saint San Gennaro, that saw Napoli beat Borussia Dortmund at the San Paolo.

Ok, so Jurgen Klopp may have thought luck played a role in his side losing on Wednesday night. As everyone knows by now, the BVB coach went a bit mental after Gonzalo Higuaín scored the opener. He was none too pleased that Neven Subotić hadn't been allowed back on the pitch before Napoli took their corner kick -- which is a fair point, but anyone that's seen Subotić play for more than a couple minutes will likely tell you that he probably would've done nothing to stop Pipita's glancing header, a little flick from a cross by Juan Zúñiga.

And, ok, Mats Hummels going down to injury also involved a bit of bad luck. But Dortmund were already chasing the game, and the defender being replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang simply gave the visitors more options going forward. Quite honestly, Dortmund's defense didn't seem to suffer after Hummels left, so putting a point in Napoli's good luck column for his injury seems rather harsh.

Was it good luck, or Saint January, that saw Roman Weidenfeller sent off just before the break? To assert luck in that instance is absolute nonsense. Higuaín, on the end of some surprisingly lovely long balls from Gökhan İnler, was already proving to be a thorn in Weidenfeller's side, and the goalkeeper had already flown well out of his posts to stop the Argentine from scoring. When Higuaín got away from Sven Bender to go one on one with Weidenfeller, the keeper panicked, rushing to meet the forward. But apparently he misjudged the distance, handling the ball outside the area and getting a straight red card.

And so Dortmund played the second half down a man, with reserve goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak between the sticks. Luck for the partenopei? Not quite. At times, it appeared the visitors were the ones with the advantage, with Napoli having to put eight or nine blue shirts inside the area to close them down. But, for the most part, they succeeded in tempering the Dortmund threat.

It could've been much worse for the Germans, but perhaps, in fact, it was luck on their side. Both Marek Hamšík and Lorenzo Insigne went close before 60 minutes had passed. Then the two combined in failing to score what seemed certain to be a second. Insigne managed to wiggle away from Subotic, but another defender arrived to clear the damage. The ball fell straight to Hamšík, but in such a way that the Slovak couldn't get in a good shot, despite being close to goal.

There was nothing of luck in Napoli's second goal -- it was pure, sweet, sexy skill from Insigne. Henrikh Mkhitaryan fouled Inler, but the distance made it seem like the free kick wouldn't be too threatening. Yet Insigne went for goal directly, curving his shot around the wall and toward the near post. The ball hit the crossbar and dropped behind Langerak as Illustrious stripped his shirt and flew towards the crowd.

Rafa  Benítez, with an eye toward Sunday's match against Milan, pulled Insigne five minutes later, replacing him with Dries Mertens. While the Belgian did plenty to trouble Dortmund, including sending in his own free kick that took a decent stretch from Langerak to prevent, the match made it clear why Insigne is favored by Rafa. The diminutive Italian harassed Kevin Großkreutz throughout the match, with his pacy footwork keeping the Dortmund defense from reaching the ball and allowing Insigne to get himself into dangerous positions.

Finally we come to the last example of anti-luck: Zúñiga's terrific strike, unfortunately placed beyond the reach of Pepe Reina. In the last ten minutes of the match, Napoli faded, unable to keep up their possession-oriented, attack-minded style, even with the introduction of Mertens and Goran Pandev. A cross came in from Marco Reus and Zúñiga, panicking, stretched out a leg to block the ball's progression. Unfortunately for the Colombian, the block turned into an incredibly lovely own goal. Luck, indeed.

Perhaps it was fortunate for Napoli that Dortmund turned up looking less like last season's runners' up and more like the team from two years back. Yet the visitors, despite receiving plenty of criticism for their performance, didn't look pathetic. They didn't look beaten after the first goal, nor after going down a man. They still managed to pressure the partenopei and string together a series of threatening attacks. The defense, often derided, held out despite losing Hummels. It wasn't so much a disappointing performance from Dortmund as it was an impressive one from Napoli. A performance that had little to do with luck, and everything to do with the way the team is playing under Benítez.