Napoli’s 3-1 loss to Real Madrid wasn’t fun, but their spirit and performance were excellent for much of the match, one disastrous ten-minute spell aside. Or at least that’s how it looked to many fans, because that’s not how club owner and president Aurelio De Laurentiis saw things.
I think the lads lacked the Neapolitan grit tonight. The only one who showed it was the Neapolitan, [Lorenzo] Insigne, who scored a very sneaky goal.
The others simply did not exist. They seemed to be stunned into submission by the glorious figures of Real Madrid, who didn’t even play that well.
Our inadequacy on the evening meant it actually went well for us, because we could’ve lost by five or six. In Naples it’ll be a cauldron, but if Real Madrid score there, I can imagine the same players will crumble again.
When you are young, you need to be humble and not arrogant, but Napoli tonight just weren’t there.
-Translated quote source: Football Italia
That’s a pretty damning indictment of the club’s performance, and one that seems to fly in the face of general opinion of how Napoli looked on Wednesday.
To say that Insigne was the only player who showed up is a massive slap in the face to the majority of the squad. Jose Callejon ran his ass off all night, Marek Hamsik was excellent in trying to force play, Amadou Diawara stepped into an even higher gear than we’ve seen from him before, Pepe Reina was downright heroic, and Kalidou Koulibaly was excellent except for one mis-step against Cristiano Ronaldo. Sure, there were a few blemishes on the night -- neither Faouzi Ghoulam nor Elseid Hysaj covered themselves in glory, and Raul Albiol will want to forget this game as soon as possible — but you absolutely cannot fault Napoli’s heart or effort against Real Madrid, and they certainly weren’t star-struck or “stunned into submission” in any way.
Yes, the start of the second half was bad. Napoli were caught badly by tactical adjustments from Madrid and took too long to respond. But once they did respond, they were a genuine threat for the rest of the game and it easily could have ended as a 3-3 draw.
Of course, De Laurentiis’ wrath wasn’t just limited to the squad, as he took shots at Maurizio Sarri as well, implying that starting Mertens as a false nine against a team like Madrid was a mistake, and criticizing Sarri for not rotating the squad enough. Honestly, it’s hard to fault Sarri in either area — he’s rotated where he’s can, but injuries and a lack of options have forced his hand frequently this season. About the only player you could argue deserves more playing time than he’s been available for is Marko Rog, but even including him only would have given the team so much relief, and he certainly wouldn’t have been an option in Mertens’ place against Madrid.
Sometimes De Laurentiis is a force for good for Napoli, but sometimes he opens his mouth and nothing but bad things come spewing out. Unfortunately, this was a case of the latter, seemingly because his expectations and hopes got too high and reality slapped him down in a bad way. That’s no excuse to needlessly lash out at the people he’s theoretically supposed to be protecting, though, and there was absolutely no call for it in this instance.