After the disappointment of losing to Liverpool in the Europa League, Napoli faced the daunting task of two games within three days. The first match on Sunday afternoon saw Walter Mazzarri’s side host Parma, who currently occupy bottom spot in Serie A, at the Stadio San Paolo. It was potentially a tricky encounter considering the disappointment of the Liverpool match, however a brace from Edinson Cavani took Napoli to a comfortable 2-0 win.
For the first time this season, Mazzarri rotated his team to good effect. Previously, when Napoli have faced three matches in a week, Mazzarri has rested some of his first-choice players and fielded some fringe players for the Thursday night Europa League tie. However, poor results against FC Utrecht and Steaua Bucharest possibly suggested that Napoli’s second-string weren’t good enough, so Mazzarri’s choice to give them their first Serie A run-out of the season against Parma was a risk.
Morgan De Sanctis remained in goal, but captain Paolo Cannavaro was rested. In his place, Mazzarri gave a first league start to new summer signing Emilson Cribari, alongside Gianluca Grava and Hugo Campagnaro in defence. Napoli’s two usual wingers, Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena, were also rested in favour of Juan Camilo Zuniga and Luigi Vitale. Michele Pazienza remained in central midfield, but partnered Hassan Yebda instead of Walter Gargano, who was benched. Ezequiel Lavezzi, the team’s best player in recent weeks, was also left on the bench in favour of another new summer recruit Jose Sosa. Marek Hamsik and Cavani completed the attacking trident with Sosa.
Mazzarri’s gamble paid off for the first time this season. Napoli took the lead after 19 minutes with a fast counter-attack, catching Parma’s defence out of position. The move was led by Zuniga down the right flank, and his cross found Cavani in the box. The Uruguayan had enough time to control the ball on his chest and slot it into the bottom corner for his first goal in three games. It was a welcome return to the score-sheet for Cavani, who has been in blistering form all season.
Parma, although they didn’t threaten for an equaliser too often, kept Napoli with just a one-goal advantage until four minutes from the end. By this time Mazzarri had sent on Gargano and Lavezzi to push for the second goal, and the latter contributed the assist. Lavezzi picked out Cavani inside the area, and from an improbable angle, he somehow lashed the ball past the goalkeeper to put any doubts to bed about the final result.
The Vesuviani remain in fifth position, but are remarkable just four points behind the leaders Lazio. It has been an above-expectations start to the campaign, but Mazzarri is convinced that his team could be even higher in Serie A if they didn’t have the extra Europa League matches in midweek.
He said: “I think if we weren’t in the Europa League we would probably have three or four more points. We played a great game today with a number of players who don’t usually get as much space.
“If we are to remain competitive on all fronts it is important that we can count on the entire squad. Unfortunately playing on Thursday evenings, it simply isn’t possible to fight it out at the top of the standings in the league.
“We returned home on Friday at six o’clock in the morning. When you have European duties it is normal fatigue starts to take its toll.”
The exploits of Napoli’s star players has seemingly not gone unnoticed. Worryingly for the club, Manchester United have been credited with an interest in Cavani, and particularly Hamsik. The Slovakian even confessed that it would not be possible to turn down a move to Old Trafford.
However, president Aurelio De Laurentiis has reassured supporters that their two vital attackers wouldn’t be leaving. He said: “When I read of the €40 million offer from Sir Alex Ferguson for two of our players I started to laugh. We have to stand up a compact team which above all has heart. There is no point talking about exciting names.”
Lavezzi, Napoli’s Argentine forward who has been in good scoring form recently, has also attracted attention, albeit a different kind. Club legend Diego Maradona has been talking up Lavezzi’s ability, and has publicly declared that his old No.10 shirt must come out of retirement. Napoli haven’t had a No.10 for almost 20 years since Maradona left the club, and the club chose to retire his shirt as a mark of respect. But Maradona now believes it is time for the shirt to return, and be worn by another Argentinean.
El Diego said: “I thank Lavezzi. He’s a special guy and a great player. ‘El Pocho’ must use the jersey with number 10 and not with the number 22.”
Regardless of his shirt number, Lavezzi will return on Wednesday night with Napoli as they travel to Sardinia. There may be no European fixture this week, but the midweek round of Serie A matches will see Napoli face an away-day at Cagliari. Another win could be crucial after Mazzarri’s team decreased the gap to four points from top spot.