Well. This wasn't fun. Napoli are through to the next round, but that wasn't fun.
Who's up for some honesty? Everyone? Well, I haven't watched a lot of Europa League this season. Football is my job and my job gives me the day off on Thursdays, so I don't usually tune in, even if it is my beloved club. So I don't know if Napoli are always like this on Thursdays.
By "this" I mean frustrating. But more than that, it looked as though they simply didn't want to be playing. And considering they expected to be playing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it's hard to blame them. But guys, come on, make this less dull. Gonzalo Higuaín and José Callejón looked like they could hardly be bothered.
Of course, Rafa Benítez and his creative lineup decisions likely didn't help. Jorginho in a more advanced role simply didn't work, with the Brazilian rendered almost totally ineffective. Marek Hamšík out wide is just silly -- his vision and ability to conduct is severely tempered. As for the use of Walter Gargano, well, it's not entirely certain the man even knows how to play football anymore.
Possibly the most interesting part of this night for Napoli was the number of times they were let off the hook. Before twenty minutes were up, Rafael had to bail his side out. Josef Husbauer hit the bar and, somehow, Rafael managed to turn in time to deny a header from David Lafata. Then, with five minutes to go in the first half, Raúl Albiol made a terrific goalline clearance to deny Ladislav Krejci.
With less than fifteen minutes on the clock, off came Jorginho, on came Faouzi Ghoulam. That meant Hamšík moved centrally -- finally -- and almost immediately Marek set up Duván Zapata, who was on for Higuaín. Nothing came of it, but at least Napoli finally looked decent.
So here's the moral, Rafa. We know you don't have either Lorenzo Insigne or Dries Mertens right now, but please, please, please don't use Marek out wide again. He is Napoli's orchestrator, and without him, they are lost. Please show us you've learned at least this much.
Napoli may have made it through, but they haven't sewn up the top spot just yet. Here's hoping they don't embarrass themselves by losing out to pointless Slovan Bratislava on the final matchday.
Sparta: Stech; Kaderábek, Brabec, Holek, Costa; Marecek, Hušbauer (Prikryl 72); Matejovsky (Vacek 90), Dockal, Krejci; Lafata
Napoli: Rafael; Mesto, Albiol, Koulibaly, Britos; Gargano, David Lopez; Callejon, Jorginho (Ghoulam 76), Hamsik; Higuain (Duvan 69)