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Napoli were "100% in control"? If you say so, Rafa

It's one thing to display confidence and assuredness in a post-match press conference after a loss, but Rafa Benitez is taking this one a little too far.

Paolo Bruno

It's long been normal for Rafa Benitez to display a certain... confidence in his post-match press conferences, even after a loss or other poor performance. Some say it's more along the lines of arrogance, but that's probably more a matter of perspective than anything.

Sometimes, though, it skips straight past confidence and dives straight in to insanity. If you want a sterling example of that, look no further than yesterday's chat with the press after Napoli lost to Udinese.

"We had the game completely under control, 100%."

Uh, sorry, what? You what?

Napoli may have had the majority of possession (56% of it, according to Whoscored and their Opta-generated stats), but it's not like they were ever able to do a damn thing with any of it. The side was set up with a much different balance of player types than normal, and only had a tiny fraction of their normal creativity on the pitch. That cost Napoli in a big way, and that "control" led to Napoli faffing about at the outer edges of the final third while Udinese waited for a turnover so they could launch a counter.

And launch counters they did. Again and again and again, after Napoli turned the ball over, an Udinese defender would launch the ball over the top for Antonio Di Natale or Bruno Fernandes or Panagiotis Kone, and while Napoli often did a good job of blunting those counters, Udinese still were able to create some chances, and it was only a matter of time before they could force a fatal mistake. That's exactly what happened when Walter Gargano hacked down Kone about 30 yards from goal, setting up that free kick.

"We lost it because of one soft challenge."

No, Rafa. You didn't lose it because of one soft challenge. You lost it because your side lacked creativity, drive, and ideas. You lost it because you put out a bad lineup and left your substitutions way too late. You lost it because you treated Udinese like they're a second division club, and it bit you in the ass.

But fine, let's pretend it was "one soft challenge" that lead to the loss. What exactly was the "soft challenge" you're referring to, though? Was it the scything tackle Gargano laid on Kone, that frankly should have lead to a booking (and arguably his second or third one of the match)? Or are you referring to Kalidou Koulibaly's fluffed half-clearance that landed at Danilo's feet to give him a clear shot at goal, even though that wasn't really a "challenge", soft or otherwise?

If he was referring to Gargano's tackle, it was certainly soft-brained. Kone was running at goal with the ball, but there were two defenders behind the ball in position to keep Kone at bay, and the Udinese attacker's own support was a good twenty yards away at best. There was no need for it, especially with how poor Kone had been on the day. He would have run himself in to a blind alley for the fifth or sixth time that match and given the ball over again. It was a harmless attack, but Gargano had to go and try to be impressive, and as usual his attempt to be impressive got screwed up.

As for the free kick itself, Napoli again showed a shocking lack of quality in two supposedly-basic areas: set piece defense and ball clearance. Those have been problems for Napoli all season long, and at this rate it's not going away any time soon. Di Natale's initial free kick fell in to the mob, and Koulibaly made a try at clearing it that somehow went on a soft arc to the side, landing right in front of Danilo. The Udinese defender had somehow gone unmarked, untracked, and untouched as he ran through Napoli's "defense" on the kick, and he was able to track the clearance and met it as it landed, taking the ball past any hope of stopping him and scoring easily.

"We saw the team performance was there, as we created chances and also hit the woodwork... We lacked determination in attack."

Napoli certainly did generate some chances, but until late in the second half after Napoli made substitutions (and after going down a goal), none of them were any good. In the first half, Napoli's best chance was a Walter Gargano shot that cracked off the post. Other than that, there was... uh, there was... uhm... well there was that.... no, not really... yeah, there was basically nothing.

Gonzalo Higuain got marked out of the match, not because he lacked "determination", but because the attacking band behind him gave him zero support. Lorenzo Insigne was bad again, Camilo Zuniga tried hard but isn't good at being a winger yet, and Michu was... something.

Part of why Michu was available this summer was that he fell badly out of form last season. At the time, that seemed to be down to injuries, but those ailments seem to have sapped the Spaniard of all semblance of confidence as well. Now, he's timid. Afraid of making mistakes. And as Insigne has found, what's the best way to cause yourself to make mistakes? Be afraid of those same mistakes and push too hard to not make them.

Michu's skills and quality are still there. You see glimpses of them when things are so fast and tight that he has to operate on instinct. But give him time on the ball, time to think, time to decide, and he screws up, every time. He'll hit passes wrong. He'll pass the ball off instead of taking a clear shot. He'll bail on a run. He'll hesitate and turn the ball over.

It's not pretty.

"They weren't feeling their best after Thursday's game."

"They" being Marek Hamsik, Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, and Gokhan Inler, the four players rotated out of the Udinese match after the Sparta Prague match on Thursday. Of course, you could easily argue that these four were key in that comeback win, particularly Hamsik and especially Mertens, who scored two of Napoli's goals that day.

Rafa also went on to specify that Gokhan "was ill", which also served to keep him out of the lineup. If that was the case, though, why the hell was he on the bench yukking it up with his teammates during the match? If a player is sick, the last think you want to do is expose the rest of the squad to whatever he's got. Sitting a sick player on the bench in close proximity to several other key players is just asinine, Rafa.

And even if all that were true, surely Callejon and Mertens had more in the tank than you let them use? Callejon didn't come in until after the hour mark, and Mertens after Udinese scored. Things clearly weren't working in the first half, so why not make those two subs earlier? By, say, the 55th minute? Those two helped lift Napoli's attack by a lot after they came on, so why limit their contributions by waiting so long to bring them in?

And while subbing in Jonathan De Guzman made perfect sense, why wait so long there, too? And, for that matter, why didn't he start? Jorginho was unavailable via injury, we know that. But with your main midfield pivot playmaker out, isn't this exactly why you brought De Guzman in, to help keep the balance of your tactics in tact in case of injuries?

Instead, you rolled with the "tactical novelty," as you put it, of two ball-winners in midfield. While David Lopez played quite well (a couple rash tackles aside), what exactly has Walter Gargano done to earn your trust? And for that matter, why was he "not feeling his best after Thursday"? Oh, right, because he barely involved himself in play on Thursday. That explains it.

Listen, Rafa. We love Napoli. You seem to love Napoli. We want to love you, especially after all the good things you did last season. So could you maybe not screw things up so much and then play them off as though everything is fine and dandy?