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Napoli fall flat against RB Leipzig in Europa League loss

Napoli lost a match they didn’t really want to win in the first place.

Napoli v RB Leipzig - UEFA Europa League Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Napoli lost heavily at home on Thursday in the Europa League, with German side RB Leipzig coming away 3-1 winners with three goals in the last half-hour of the match to take a commanding lead in this Round of 32 tie.

I could spend a bunch of time recapping the match, and how Napoli’s lack of energy throughout kept them from ever taking control of the match like we’re used to seeing. I could talk about how Napoli’s lack of passion in the match — something Maurizio Sarri harped on in post-game interviews — cost them their ability to push on and dominate like they’re capable of.

But I’m not going to do that. Because in the long run, nothing about this match mattered much. Well, very little anyways.

The simple fact is that the Europa League doesn’t matter to Napoli. They don’t have the squad depth to compete on multiple fronts right now, and they need to focus on the Scudetto chase in Serie A. If Napoli had made the Champions League knockout rounds instead of the Europa League, taking the risk on pushing for advancement there would be understandable? But the Europa League? Nah.

So Napoli took a step back, rotated heavily, and got blasted for it. The scoreline was unfortunate to see, but it was fairly meaningless. Napoli likely won’t play much if any harder during the second leg next week, and in fact might be even more heavily rotated for the occasion. Because again, it just doesn’t really matter for them, even if the tie wasn’t already basically over thanks to Leipzig holding three away goals.

But for all that, there were some bright spots in the match. Adam Ounas and Marko Rog both got steadily better as the match went on, with Ounas scoring an absolutely lovely goal to give Napoli a 1-0 lead early in the second half. Lorenzo Tonelli mostly played well. Amadou Diawara was better than we’ve seen him in awhile.

But there were individual blemishes too. Mario Rui was wild and ineffectual when he was on the pitch. Christian Maggio got burned with regularity, and was heavily responsible for two of Leipzig’s goals. Jose Callejon looked gassed after about half an hour. It just wasn’t a good day for Napoli, and with Leipzig the more driven and interested side, the result was hardly shocking.

Napoli still have one more Europa League match to show up for next week, and fortunately they have a pair of simple-on-paper matches around it. Napoli’s focus is now entirely on Serie A, and that’s fine. Really. This performance was more annoying than problematic. As long as it doesn’t leak over into the Scudetto chase, it really just doesn’t matter worth a damn.

On to the next.