The day after the great Diego Maradona turned 50, Napoli’s strong start to the season continued with a narrow win over lowly Brescia. Walter Mazzarri’s men were under-strength and had one eye on the crucial midweek clash with Liverpool in the Europa League, but still had enough in the tank to dispose of Brescia with a late Ezequiel Lavezzi winner.
Mazzarri fielded Gianluca Grava, Paolo Cannavaro and Hugo Campagnaro in defence, ahead of goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, in a full-strength defensive line-up. However holding midfielder Michele Pazienza was suspended, Christian Maggio was injured and Mazzarri chose to rest his star striker Edinson Cavani to rest him for the trip to Liverpool. As a result, Camilo Zuniga came in on the right-wing, with Andrea Dossena on the left. Hassan Yebda came into central midfield alongside Walter Gargano, with Marek Hamsik in his usual playmaking role. Jose Sosa was handed a rare start instead of Cavani, and played adjacent to Hamsik as an attacking midfielder, leaving Lavezzi up-front on his own.
The Partemopei’s eventual win justified the desicision to leave Cavani, their top goalscorer, on the substitutes’ bench. Before the match, though, Mazzarri explained: “I have to take into account the fact that we will be playing five games in the next 15 days. Cavani has always played, so perhaps it is time to give him a rest. A modern hit-man like him needs to be on top form to make the difference, otherwise he can’t run towards goal and get there with the right sharpness.”
Brescia were, in fact, much the better team on a windy and rainy afternoon at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti. However, the relegation candidates struggled to break down Napoli’s back-line, despite enjoying the majority of the possession. Mazzarri felt his team were so ineffective that he brought on Cavani mid-way through the second period in the hope that their star striker could inspire them going forward. He couldn’t however, and Brescia nearly opened the scoring when Andrea Caracciolo’s scuffed effort hit the post. Campagnaro then headed the ball against his own crossbar as he attempted a clearance.
Against the run of play, the only goal of the game was scored in the 77th minute by the Neapolitans. Lavezzi’s over-hit cross was brought down superbly by Hamsik, who sent the ball back across the face of the goal. Lavezzi had continued his run into the six-yard box and got on the end of the square ball to score a tap-in, continuing his own goal-scoring form, and delivering another three points for the Vesuviani that have lifted them up to fifth position. It was fitting that the only goal of the match should be scored by an Argentine on the weekend that Napoli were celebrating Maradona’s 50th birthday.
Afterwards, Mazzarri said: “We suffered because Brescia played very well on the counter, but we maintained the initiative throughout. That is true of both the first half and the second. I think Napoli had a good game, although we were under pressure on set-plays.”
One player who has been attracting particularly high praise for Napoli’s good form is their playmaker, Hamsik. The Slovakian has often been their creative inspiration and against Brescia he was once again responsible for an assist. However, his form may come at a cost, as several newspapers are linking Manchester United with a bid for his services.
“It is pleasing to hear that kind of comment,” Hamsik conceded. “Even if I haven’t had any direct contact. I have to admit, it would be very difficult to say no to Manchester United.”
Neapolitan supports will be happy to learn that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has ruled out any January signings, but it would still appear that Hamsik’s brilliance has not gone unnoticed by Europe’s biggest clubs.
A further chance for Hamsik to build his reputation will come on Thursday evening when Napoli face another Premier League giant – albeit in poor form – in Liverpool. The Reds lead Group K, but Napoli are in second place so the tie at Anfield is important for both sides to ensure qualification into the knock-out stages. Liverpool have started the season in awful form and regularly rest players for European nights, so a confident Napoli will back themselves to take something from the atmospheric stadium.