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Atalanta upsets sleepwalking Napoli in Coppa Italia

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A heavily-rotated Napoli side just wasn’t up to par, though the Coppa Italia wasn’t high on their list of priorities.

SSC Napoli v Atalanta BC - TIM Cup Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

It wasn’t a pretty day in Naples. It was a cold and dreary night, and the play on the pitch reflected that, with Napoli basically sleepwalking their way through a 2-1 loss to Atalanta that sees them exit the Coppa Italia after the quarterfinal round. It was a poor showing from Napoli, but perhaps not a surprising one given the squad’s heavy rotation and heavier focus on trying to win Serie A.

The performance was a major let-down in many ways, though, even in light of the match’s relative unimportance. From first minute to last, Napoli failed to show a sense of urgency or drive, and thanks to a heavily rotated side that’s hardly played together thanks to Maurizio Sarri’s rotation policies. That lead to defensive errors and a lack of attacking cohesion, and ultimately to shipping a pair of second half goals that were fairly preventable, while only scoring once off an odd sequence that ended in a rare Dries Mertens headed goal.

It was a showing that some will take as a sigh that Maurizio Sarri’s limited rotation policy is in the right given the iffy performances by many of the rare starters in this match, but in reality it’s a sign of just how poor that policy is. Those players didn’t play poorly because they have skill — in point of fact, Adam Ounas and Marko Rog were involved in some of the few high points of the match for Napoli. No, the rotated players didn’t perform well because they hardly ever start matches or play with one another for Napoli, with Rog, Ounas, Mario Rui, Vlad Chiriches, and Luigi Sepe combining for just 22 all-competitions starts this season. Most of those belong to Rui and Chiriches, who have been forced into the lineup thanks to injuries and have rarely played otherwise.

In other words, these players don’t have anything like the form or fitness or, most importantly, the consistency to succeed and play at a high level because Sarri hardly uses them. They’re valuable players, but without time on the pitch when those chances are available, they’re not going to have the kind of cohesion and consistency that fans are begging for in games like this.

So with that paired with the fact that Atalanta has been a bogey team for Napoli in recent years, and this match was a recipe for disaster. Well, not disaster, but certainly a fairly unpleasant performance and a poor overall showing for the club. They don’t need the Coppa Italia this season — if anything, getting out now will be good for Napoli as they concentrate on trying to win Serie A — but it sure would have been nice to see a little more fight from the side. Fight that wasn’t there because the players were trying to learn how to play with each other, because too much of the squad rarely sees the pitch. That’s fun.

On to the next.