Napoli suffered a bitterly disappointing defeat at the hands on Lazio on Wednesday. It featured an agonizing combination of all the things that have sent Napoli sliding down the Serie A table over the last two months shoved in to ninety minutes that were terrible to behold -- but according to their manager, there was nothing wrong with Napoli but a small lack of luck.
Rafa Benitez feels that the only thing that Napoli lacked was the ever-elusive favor of fortune, saying that with "more luck," things could have been different against Lazio. He thinks that "seven clear chances" should have been more than enough to win given the rest of the day -- nevermind anything else that happened on the pitch -- and that Napoli deserved "a lot more" from this match and most of their other matches of late.
While you can certainly understand that a manager wants to see the best from his team's performance, Rafa seems blissfully ignorant of what's actually going on right now. Yes, players are struggling and not finishing chances and making mistakes in defense, but that's only part of what's going on right now to sink Napoli's ship.
Against Lazio, against Roma, against Atalanta, against Hellas Verona, against too many opponents of late, Napoli came out without any clear plan of attack. Even early in the match when things should mostly be carefully planned out and basically scripted, players were too often standing around looking at each other expecting someone else to do something useful. About the only ones who were constantly driving and fighting and pushing were Marek Hamsik and Manolo Gabbiadini, but Lazio did a good job of keeping the two from connecting with each other.
For the first hour of the match, Napoli's defense actually did a fairly good job against a dangerous Lazio front three -- but then when Stefano Pioli started making substitutions, moving players around and adjusting his tactics according to what he was seeing on the pitch, Napoli responded by doing ... nothing. Oh sure, Rafa made subs of his own, but not until after Lazio scored his goal did he change the team's shape or move players around or seem to make adjustments to who was supposed to do what in defense.
So Napoli kept on doing the same thing as they had all match long when Lazio had the ball, but with their opponents suddenly shuffled around the pitch and trying to do different things, defensive approaches that had worked all day long suddenly stopped working. That would be understandable for a couple of minutes while things get sorted out and adjustments made to the new attack, but Napoli kept on doing the same thing. Over and over, Lazio's attack cut apart Napoli's defense in the last half hour of the match, and over and over Napoli did nothing to change the situation at hand.
The worst thing is that when Felipe Anderson flipped to the left side of Napoli's defense after spending most of the day on their right, they treated him like he wasn't even there. Time and again he breezed through the defense to create danger, setting up Lazio's goal and forcing a storming run back from Hamsik to keep him from bagging a goal of his own. It wasn't really until the last few minutes of the match that Napoli's defense realized that, hey, one of the most in-form players in Italy is on the pitch and running rampant and maybe we should do something about this.
Could the players have done more to fix these problems? Sure. Absolutely. If this was a one-time problem, you could absolutely chalk it up to the players screwing up. But this exact kind of problem -- poor planning, no adjustments, bad responses -- has been happening over and over and over and over since Napoli's form dropped. Since the beginning of the season, really.
When you have a pattern that stark, that unyielding, that terrifying, that moves past a failing of the players and moves in to a failing in coaching. In the preparations made in training, in the lessons taught off the pitch. Without those things, the players can only do so much, and as Napoli fans have seen, that's too often not enough.
So no, Rafa. That wasn't bad luck. That was a failure. In your coaching, in your planning, in your methods. Even if you refuse to see it, you and your team failed. You failed to do what was needed to win. You failed to beat Lazio. You failed to make the Coppa Italia final. You failed to create even the tiniest glimmer of hope for the rest of the season.
And that's just rotten luck for the fans.