I've spent much of the day trying to write a cogent, regular recap of Napoli's 2-0 loss to Inter Milan. You know, the blow-by-blow that usually follows the match, breaking things down, being reasoned and blah blah blah. I tried. I really did. But in the end, I came to one conclusion.
This match was too frustrating, too infuriating, for anything like that. There's not enough reason to work with on this one. There just isn't. So this time, the "recap" is taking a different tack -- venting.
So in the opening minutes, Napoli's defense decided to completely lose track of Mauro Icardi. You know, last season's co-capocannoniere. Who, coming into Sunday's match, had scored 14 goals on the season and had scored in two straight matches. The one guy on the pitch that Napoli had to keep track of -- and they didn't at all. Yeah. That makes sense.
Long story short, horrid positioning from Napoli's back line saw Elseid Hysaj hold him onside for a lofted ball over the top that immediately put Icardi into a point blank one-on-one with Pepe Reina. It's a situation that we've normally seen Reina do well in, getting big and cutting off the player's main shooting lane to force a more difficult shot. This time, he -- well, it looked like Reina had a seizure or something instead of doing much of anything useful. Icardi still had to make a decent finish, but nothing about Icardi's goal was nearly as difficult for him to earn as it should have been.
It was more of the same brainless, inattentive, mistake-ridden play we've seen FAR too much of from Napoli in recent weeks. Sadly, moments like this early in matches have become almost traditional for Napoli. Usually they spark the team putting their nose to the grindstone, driving on to a better performance and greater success later in the match.
This time, not so much.
Napoli kept playing flat. And then they played flat some more. And then they played flat some more. They did try to get forward, but when Inter flattened out their midfield to deny space and try to cut the partenopei out of the final third -- while still leaving themselves capable of executing rapid-fire counter-attacks -- and Napoli were slow and poor at making adjustments. When Inter scored their second -- hey thanks Ivan Strinic for marking Icardi when two other defenders were on him and leaving Marcelo Brozovic completely unmarked behind the line -- that was it for Napoli. They pushed a few times, sure, but they were never a particular threat to make something happen.
This was easily Napoli's worst performance of the season. Even compared to their early struggles when they were getting used to a new system and style of play, even compared to the February doldrums, even compared to the Udinese loss two weeks ago. In each of those games, there was at least strong effort blunted by bad luck or a strong opposing performance or the like. In this match, Inter weren't actually all that good. In fact, Inter were kinda bad! But Napoli didn't have their usual fire, they didn't have their usual effort, and they got walked all over anyways.
If Napoli want to hold onto second place, they need to look at what they did in this match and literally do the exact opposite for the rest of the season. Let's hope they figure out some kind of lesson from this and turn things around, because if they don't -- kiss the Champions League goodbye.