Napoli ran away easy and emphatic winners on Sunday, beating Benevento 6-0 in the first Campania derby of the new season, and the first such derby in Serie A in a long, long time. And while it was fun to watch Dries Mertens’ hat trick and the other goals for Allan, Lorenzo Insigne, and Jose Callejon, this match seemed to actually raise more questions than it answered.
Napoli got off to a roaring start, with a third-minute goal from Allan set up by a huge breakout attack that saw Vid Belec just barely parry away one fierce shot Allan had created, only to get victimized by Allan following up the shot and slamming it home. Then Lorenzo Insigne scored spectacularly on a brilliant turning shot that left Belec crossed up in the fifteenth minute, and the Benevento keeper just about straight up capitulated on goals from Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon before halftime.
The second half saw Napoli back off the gas with the game well won, but a pair of penalties saw Mertens grab a hat trick, and Napoli walk out with a huge win that was a nice spirit-raiser after their midweek difficulties in Ukraine. But for all of that... what did this match really do for Napoli?
I’m going to be honest for a second. I missed the first half because my alarm didn’t go off this morning — hence the lack of a match thread — but I watched the second half and then a replay of the whole match with a lot of questions forming in my mind. The biggest one of all being this: just what are Napoli’s priorities this season?
Many fans have been frustrated by Maurizio Sarri’s squad selection of late, especially since the international break. Napoli have gone with virtually full-strength squads for two league matches against poor teams in Bologna and Benevento, leaving key players either tired or on the bench due to rotation against Shakhtar Donetsk, and likely again in the midweek match against Lazio just a few days from now. Napoli were disappointing in that Champions League match, and with Lazio looking impressive so far in Serie A, they may be setting themselves up for another disappointment.
With Napoli ill able to afford much in the way of high-level disappointment in a season with razor-thin margins for error, that begs the question as to why they seem to be putting more emphasis in terms of available squad quality on matches against teams that they should be able to beat with a rotated side. Benevento were so utterly out of their depth against Napoli’s core starters, and even when reserve attackers like Adam Ounas and Marko Rog came in, they still looked lost. There was no reason to wear down and risk the likes of Mertens, Insigne, and Ghoulam, and there especially wasn’t reason to risk Marek Hamsik or Jorginho, who have both been carrying leg injuries of late.
It’s frustrating almost to the point of madness to see Napoli making what honestly appears to be a series of very poor decisions in priority over the past few months. This team can be amazing to watch at times, but they also seem to make a number of decisions that hamper their ability to reach their potential. Hopefully they learn those lessons soon — and hopefully they don’t endure too much pain in learning those lessons.