Napoli went to France and lost a friendly to Nice, which in the long run doesn't much matter, but under the circumstance -- while learning and adapting to a new tactical system under a new manager -- there's some cause for concern. The goals scored in the first half were lovely, but two of the goals they surrendered have to raise major question marks from Maurizio Sarri and company.
Things started off in extraordinarily rough fashion for Napoli, with a defensive disaster almost right off the bat. Kalidou Koulibaly made a completely correct decision to step out of the back line to challenge a Nice runner, but instead of moving to cover the space, Henrique just watched the ball -- and watched Alassane Plea beat a late-arriving Faouzi Ghoulam to shoot under Gabriel for the opening goal. Gabriel could have done better to save the shot -- he had a chance to smother it, but the ball squeezed through under him -- but the fact is that the shot would never have been taken, or at least not so dangerously, if Henrique had actually done what he was supposed to instead of ball-watching.
Napoli bounced back quickly though, using their advantages in pace and technique to create a pair of gorgeous goals. The first came from Jose Callejon working his way into unwatched space at the far post to get an equalizer, and the second when Dries Mertens called his own number, cutting in from a left-side run and unleashing a missile straight into the back of the net.
Napoli looked the more dangerous side for most of the rest of the half, but Nice eventually came back into the match -- and made Napoli pay for letting them back in when Jean Seri uncorked a brilliant shot of his own, beating Gabriel and bringing Nice level again. It was a shame to see Gabriel beaten, because he'd bounced back nicely from his earlier gaffe, including an impressive, instinctive save to dive low to parry a Plea volley.
At halftime, Napoli made a number of changes, handing debuts to new signings Vlad Chiriches and Elseid Hysaj in defense, as well as bringing Rafael into goal, Jorginho into midfield, and Manolo Gabbiadini into the attack. Maybe all those changes threw things off-kilter, maybe Napoli needed time to adjust and adapt, but the fact is this: less than ten minutes into the second half, Kalidou Koulibaly went to sleep, allowing Valere Germain to slip by him for a free header and the eventual winning goal.
Napoli pushed hard and had their chances to score, most notably a Gabbiadini lob that had to be cleared off the line, but with 22 minutes left in the match, any real chance of a comeback ended. Jose Callejon at the heart of a scuffle that broke out after a series of rash and hard challenges from Nice players went unpunished by the referee -- who then sent Callejon off for inciting the whole thing.
That left Napoli in the lurch, and while Sarri was able to tweak and adjust things to keep Napoli competitive in attack and secure at the back, they just couldn't make up the numbers to find a breakthrough. A handful of chances came and left for both teams, but the match ended with that same 3-2 scoreline.
There were a number of positives to take away from the defeat for Napoli, though. The attack was fluid, versatile, and dangerous, the defense was much better once Henrique was out of it -- Koulibaly's gaffe aside -- and the midfield looked potent and balanced.
Once some of the absent players get back to health and form -- Gonzalo Higuain, Marek Hamsik, Pepe Reina, and Raul Albiol, we're lookin' at you -- this could be a very, very, very good Napoli side. For now, there's still work to do, and the result wasn't there on Sunday. But in the coming weeks and months? Yeah, this could be fun.
Napoli: Gabriel (Rafael Cabral 46'); Christian Maggio, Henrique (Vlad Chiriches 46'), Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam (Elseid Hysaj 46'); Allan (Gokhan Inler 59'), Mirko Valdifiori (Jorginho 46'), David Lopez (Jonathan De Guzman 70'); Lorenzo Insigne (Omar El Kaddouri 70'); Dries Mertens (Manolo Gabbiadini 46'), Jose Callejon (red 68')
Goals: Callejon (14'), Mertens (19')
Nice: Simon Pouplin; Kevin Gomis (Albert Rafetraniaina 77'), Mathieu Bodmer (Maxime Borges 77'), Maxime Le Marchand, Niklas Hult (Olivier Boscagli 61'); Vincent Koziello (Valentin Eysseric 61'), Nampalys Mendy, Jean Seri (Gregoire Puel 77'); Hatem Ben Arfa (Mahamane Traore 61'); Alassane Plea (Said Benrahma 77'), Valere Germain (Alexandre Mendy 77')
Goals: Plea (7'), Seri (39'), Germain (54')