Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughBeware the bite of Napoli threat - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Beware the bite of Napoli threat - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Beware the bite of Napoli threat

The draw for the Champions League second round at the end of 2011 was somewhat played down in the United Kingdom, probably because the two Manchester clubs had fallen at the first hurdle but also because of a superiority complex that the Premier League assumes over the rest of Europe, bar Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Arsenal were drawn against Serie A champions AC Milan but some pundits on Sky Sports used cliché, after cliché about the tie, along the lines of “they should have too much for Milan.” I don’t know if I was the only one thinking, “hang on a minute, an Arsenal team that has Andre Santos at left back and struggling to make the top four, has too much for the Italian champions. I’m not so sure.” They have Robin van Persie, but still it is a English football looking down their noses once more.

The other tie that interests the avid watcher of the English Premier League was Andre Villas Boas’ Chelsea playing Napoli. The clichés reared their ugly heads again and Chelsea would take their rightful place in the last eight of Europe’s premier competition. If rightful places were deserved then wouldn’t there be at least one Manchester club in the second round?

Now, Andre Villas Boas obviously won’t believe that Chelsea will rightfully step into the quarterfinals because they are playing a team that will threaten the big guns of Europe and with the right investment could be one of the scariest prospects for most European sides for years to come. Manchester City, AC Milan and Inter Milan have already found out this season what happens when you underestimate Napoli: you slip up. Villas Boas has had his critics but he is a magnificent, intelligent manager and he will not be underestimating the side from Naples.

AC Milan had an early season trip to the Stadio San Paolo and scored the opening goal through Alberto Aquilani but Milan continued to play an attacking style of play. Teams that do not show Napoli enough respect and do not try and stifle the attacking prowess that they have at their disposal will conceded. On this occasion, as Milan tried to attack in numbers, Napoli punished them on the counter attack. Edinson Cavani bagged himself a hat trick and Milan were left wondering what if.

The critical point of this team is that they struggle against defensive minded teams that will not attack them. They drew one all on Monday night against Bologna. Robert Acquafresca scored the opening goal for the away side and they sat on that lead. It was only an Edinson Cavani penalty that denied them an impressive win.  Napoli manager, Walter Mazzarri has said this week that his side are not a great team yet, and dropping silly points like this is the reason. He said, ““More often than not, teams who come to the Stadio San Paolo defend in an exaggerated manner. And sometimes we want to attack so much that we then lose our balance.”

When talking Napoli, the word Cavani, will crop up quite a lot. His name has been linked with Chelsea and City in recent months but he is clearly enjoying life in Naples. He has the extraordinarily talented Marek Hamsik and the pacey and direct Ezequial Lavezzi feeding him chance after chance. They have made some very clever acquisitions; one in particular stands out, Gokan Inler. He is the steel that was missing from the midfield last year. He and Walter Gargano will be looking to build a solid base that Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi can attack from.

It isn’t only those three talents that get the goals though. In reserve they have a Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup winner in Goran Pandev chipping in when someone isn’t performing as well as they could. Maggio and Zuniga make up the rest of the supporting cast and are very consistent performers for Walter Mazzarri’s men. They have an outstanding but under rated goalkeeper in Morgan de Sanctis who is probably called on a bit too much than he would like. Hugo Campagnaro and Paolo Cannavaro, younger brother of Fabio, play in a back three in the 3-4-3 formation that Barcelona used earlier in the season.

The top dogs of European football seem to not take note of what these smaller teams do. To stifle Napoli, you must stop their strength, which is the counter attack. It might sound boring but Manchester City tried playing their own game against Napoli and look what happened, they were eliminated from the Champions League.

If the clichés are to become true and Chelsea deserve their place in the quarter finals of the Champions League then they have to not take Napoli lightly and build a winning performance on a solid base. It isn’t only Chelsea that have to watch their step, it is also the Rottweiler’s of Italian football, who have to watch their backs. The re matches with the Milan clubs fall in February along with the two-legged clash with Chelsea.

Maybe when February turns to March, pundits and fans alike will finally realise that Napoli have a lot more bite than bark, unlike some of their national and continental counterparts.

Mark Young @markyoung1988

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