Napoli’s recent 3-0 defeat to Milan has, in all probability, ended their chances of winning the Scudetto this season, even if Milan Coach Massimiliano Allegri refuses to rule them out. Yet his words could have been so much more than the platitudinous diplomacy that comes across had Napoli managed to achieve results against the teams around them.
Napoli have played the other teams (Milan, Inter, Lazio and Udinese) that fill the top five positions in Serie A five times so far, and have failed to gain so much as a point in those meetings. Although they have had the disadvantage of having played only one of those games at home, there will be disappointment in Naples at the failure to come away from Lazio or Udinese with draws at the very least.
There are, of course, three meetings left against these teams, and all three are at the San Paolo, so there is time to rectify this, but unless Milan and Inter start to collapse from now until the end of the season, it will be too little too late in the hunt for the Scudetto. For a side that have been relatively consistent against the ‘lesser teams’ (as consistent as their rivals, anyway), there may be a tinge of regret at what might have been.
It is something the club need to address if they are to genuinely kick on from this season, and they start with the comments emanating from the dressing room. Despite the title race being one of the most open for a long time, and the apparent drop in quality at the top end of Serie A, there has not been a point in the season where the Coach or the players have emitted a belief that they can compete for first place.
On more than one occasion this season Marek Hamšik has claimed that he would be happy with obtaining Champions League football, while Christian Maggio commented that he does not think they ”are ready to win the league.” With the club having been away from the top end of Serie A for a substantial period, it is perhaps natural, but it is also disappointing that, having kept with the pace for such a length of time, the mentality surrounding the club is holding them back from potentially achieving something great this season.
This mentality manifests itself in the important matches, such as those against the teams around them. After their 3-1 defeat at Inter, Coach Walter Mazzarri admitted that they ”feel the pressure of the big match.” That one comment sums up the biggest hurdle Napoli need to overcome, and it may need one or two purchases in the mercato to add a player with the right mentality, a winning one, to drag the rest of the squad up with them.
The dressing room as it stands does not contain a great number of players who have experienced the pressure matches. Walter Gargano and Edinson Cavani played in a World Cup semi-final only last year, and Algerian Hassan Yebda started the 2010 African Cup of Nations semi-final, but the big match experience ends there for the squad. A few players with the right pedigree could go a long way to transforming Napoli from Champions League qualifiers to genuine Scudetto contenders.