Once again on Sunday, Napoli took a lead in the match and threw it, and two points, away. That's become something of a habit this season, and at times last year as well. At least Napoli didn't allow Cagliari to win, but just letting them come back from a 2-0 deficit and equalize not just once, but twice.... well, that's bad enough.
Rafa Benitez sounds every bit as sick of this trend as the fans are. "Clearly after three or four games in which we defended very well," Rafa told the press after the match, "today we had the game in hand and could’ve gone more than 2-0 up, but lowered the intensity level. That allowed Cagliari back into the match.
"Of course it is annoying, as after so much work we make these mistakes, I cannot be satisfied. We had the game in hand. The team did everything right to score, but we gifted the first goal and knew the second could happen. Let’s not even talk about the third goal."
That loss of intensity Rafa spoke of has been an all-too common problem for Napoli under his care. Hell, it's been an all-too-common problem of a number of his teams over the years. In situations like yesterday, when his players think the game is won, they back off the gas in attack but also lose some degree of focus in defense, which too often leads to days like Sunday. Or worse, against minnows, they never really get things in gear at all and open themselves up to shock results like, say, losing to Chievo.
The other issue that's concerned people is an apparent lack of appropriate preparation. Rafa's players looked shellshocked when Cagliari unleashed the attacking fury of Zemanlandia after going down 2-0, which is strange at best because a Zeman team going all-out in attack is as predictable as the sun rising and falling every day. Why did they seem so poorly prepared for it?
So sayeth the Rafa:
"Cagliari always score on their travels..."
Well... yes. Mostly. Zeman's side has failed to score just twice this year, at Roma in September and at Hellas Verona in October. They also scored four goals in each of their away matches at Inter Milan and Empoli, proving that they can unleash fury and win in a big way on the road. So hey, at least Rafa knew that!
"... and if we had gone three or four up before half-time, the game would’ve been closed."
Well... no. Not really. Against most sides, sure, maybe, but against a Zeman team going up four goals is just an invitation for him to attack more. If Napoli had defended well and kept pressing the advantage in attack, three or four goals at the half would likely have been enough, but if they went up by that margin and defended like they did after going up 2-0, the end result would have been just the same, except more frustrating.
That's where we cross the line from "confidence" to "arrogance," a trait that annoys and angers many of Rafa's detractors. Frankly, it should bother his supporters too, because arrogance is a trait that gets managers fired. Not because being arrogant pisses off his club's owners (though that probably doesn't help), but because managerial arrogance leads to results like yesterday and quotes like that.
You can't just assume that you have a game won because the scoreline looks pretty. Until that final whistle blows, you have to do everything you can to keep your opponent from getting the upper hand. Too often, that doesn't happen with Rafa in charge.
"I am angry because we had the game in hand and gave it to Cagliari."
So are we, Rafa. So are we.