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Napoli 0, Chievo Verona 1: Defensive Donkeys frustrate their way to a win

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Poor finishing and cynical defending kept Napoli from scoring, and a sadly typical defensive breakdown spelled Napoli's doom.

Giuseppe Bellini

Remember how we said yesterday that this was a must-win match? Yeah, about that...

Things started off well for Napoli, creating a bevy of chances and generating a ton of pressure in the final third as they took near-complete control of the match almost from the first kick. Gonzalo Higuain, Lorenzo Insigne, and Jose Callejon all had multiple chances early on, but a tight defense from Chievo kept them from finding the space they needed to get shots through.

Not helping matters any for Napoli was that Francesco Bardi was playing out of his mind. The young keeper had probably the best match of his life, making save after save after save, including a number that were quite impressive. He also saved a Gonzalo Higuain penalty, which is no easy feat, though it could be argued that Higuain didn't hit it with quite his usual conviction and telegraphed which side he was going to. Even with that, though, it took excellent reflexes to make that save.

Unfortunately, Napoli just couldn't find a way to break down Chievo's eight man defense despite all the possession and danger they maintained, and every time they got a good shot off, Bardi was there to save the day. In the first half, that was mildly OK; Napoli clearly had the upper hand, both Chievo central defenders picked up yellows, and things were looking productive. But Napoli had to capitalize on things quickly in the second half in order to get something from this match, and... well, that didn't so much happen.

Instead, it was Chievo Verona striking on a counter attack that lit up the scoreboard for the first time early in the half. Maxi Lopez, aka Chievo's only dangerous attacker in the first half, combined with Mariano Izco down the right side to rip Napoli's defense apart and Lopez finished easily past a stranded Rafael. There was nothing the Brazilian could do to stop the shot, as Lopez had all the time he needed to pick his shot and then some thanks to Christian Maggio being nowhere to be found, Raul Albiol being lost at sea, and Camilo Zuniga being unable to do all the defending himself despite a heroic effort to come all the way down and across the field to try to break up the counter.

After that, Chievo went even more defensive than before (no easy feat), and Napoli were helpless to break them down. Marek Hamsik did everything he could to put the team on his back and carry them to a win, taking what little space and time he was given on the ball and consistently generating threats with throughballs and shots of his own. Sadly, he had next to no support, with Insigne continuing to suffer from his apparent lack of confidence, Higuain getting hammered by the Chievo defense, Callejon unable to do anything effective, and the subs that came on didn't do any better.

Frankly, it was an incredibly poor performance on a whole by Napoli in the second half. Maggio would have been more useful if he just sat down and picked grass, Inler was a mess, Jorginho looked like he was under too much pressure, and the attack was disjointed thanks to no one around Hamsik having anything resembling a good day. Even Dries Mertens and Duvan Zapata, who normally thrive as subs, were woefully ineffective. By the end of the match, the only players who seemed to give a damn were Hamsik, Zuniga, and Koulibaly, and that's frustrating to see.

Losing to Chievo, at home, in the second league match of the season is utterly unacceptable. This team has to be better than that. Of course, this is already the third unacceptable performance from Napoli in this young season, and by the sound of the crowd in the last half hour, they're already tired of it. That was as hostile an atmosphere at the San Paolo as we've seen, and unless things get better fast, the attitude of the fans is only going to get worse.

Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Zuniga; Inler, Jorginho (De Guzman 72'); Insigne (Mertens 58'), Hamsik, Callejon (Zapata 78'); Higuain

Chievo Verona: Bardi; Frey, Dainelli, Cesar, Biraghi; Izco (Gamberini 81'), Radovanovic, Hetemaj; Birsa (Botta 69'), Lazarevic (Coffi 73'); Maxi Lopez

Goal: Lopez 49'