In interviews after Monday's heartbreaking match against Genoa that saw Napoli surrender two points late in the match to yet another minnow, both Rafa Benitez and Marek Hamsik apologized for the poor performance and said that Napoli need to do better.
"I’m sorry about losing two points yesterday," Hamsik said to the club's official website. "We still believe we can get second place. Our lack of goals doesn't worry me, we just want to feel good on the pitch and try to play better than we are at the moment."
For his part, Benitez was disappointed that his side was never able to put the match away as planned. "The first half was the key for me, as we wanted to score two or three goals and then control it after the break. We didn’t achieve that, we knew they were dangerous and that at 1-0 we were always in the balance."
That balance was torn asunder when Emanuele Calaio scored his dramatic equalizer off a wonderfully taken free kick (for his part, Calaio apologized to his former teammates after the match). While Benitez said that he doesn't consider Genoa to be a small club, yesterday's match was an obvious continuation of a long-standing problem against sides in the bottom half of the table.
Whether due to fixture congestion, fatigue, or just plain bad planning, Napoli have shown a loss of focus against lesser opponents repeatedly this season. While Benitez says that Napoli "must not repeat certain mistakes" against these clubs, at some point you have to wonder how many of those mistakes are coming from the manager. Lack of focus against small clubs is something that comes up as a frequent pattern in Benitez-lead sides, especially during his days in Liverpool. Even during his Champions League winning campaign, Liverpool continually dropped points and generally disappointed against Premier League sides in the lower reaches of the table.
The flip side to that is that clubs managed by Benitez rarely disappoint on the big occasions, as exemplified by the home matches against Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, AC Milan, and Roma this season. Hopefully we can soon add Swansea to that list, as both manager and captain spoke highly of the Europa League's importance to thesquad and that they hope to drive deep in to the competition. There's also the Coppa Italia Final still to come, and Fiorentina will be no easy opponent to put away in that match.
All of that doesn't matter if Napoli keep slipping up in supposedly easy matches, though. Benitez and Hamsik both spoke of optimism in surpassing Roma for second place, but the six point gap is looking harder to overcome. Roma have rarely disappointed in these types of matches this season, and while Napoli still have a home match against the giallorossi still to come to try and claw three points closer, Napoli can't afford any more failures against small clubs.