With a point away from home in the Europa League, and all three points in the Derby Del Sole in Serie A, Napoli have had an excellent week to continue their excellent start to the season. Walter Mazzarri’s men first faced Steaua Bucharest in Romania last Thursday, in the second match of their Europa League group stage, before taking on Roma at the Stadio San Paolo on Saturday.
After earning a goalless draw with Dutch side FC Utrecht in their first European tie, Mazzarri again opted to juggle his squad and name a much-changed team for the trip to Bucharest. Morgan De Sanctis kept his place in goal, as did Gianluca Grava in defence, but Edmilson Cribari and Fabiano Santacroce came in to freshen the back-line. The midfield was completely revamped, and had five across the middle to try and stifle Steaua. Christian Maggio, Camilo Zuniga, Walter Gargano, Hassan Yebda and Luigi Vitale were tested, with Jose Sosa playing just off Edinson Cavani, who retained his place up-front.
It seemed Mazzarri’s squad depth didn’t have what it takes to compete in European competition. Napoli trailed 3-0 after just 16 minutes, with Cribari’s own goal opening the floodgates after a couple of minutes. But, the Neapolitans showed remarkable heart, and on the stroke of half-time, Vitale’s goal gave them hope. Marek Hamsik was introduced after the break, and his 30-yard screamer made it 3-2, before an astonishing eight minutes of injury-time were played. With seconds remaining, Cavani fired home the equaliser to give Napoli two points from two matches.
Two days later, Napoli’s attention turned back to Serie A, where they came up against the improving Roma, who were starting to look like the team of last season. Mazzarri restored his favoured line-up, recalling Paolo Cannavaro, Hugo Campagnaro, Salvatore Aronica, Michele Pazienza, Andrea Dossena, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Napoli were again able to produce a tremendous performance to defeat the Giallorossi, winning the fixture for the first time in 17 years. Hamsik was again a goal-scorer, opening the scoring with a side-footed shot with little over 15 minutes remaining. The creditable victory was secured when Campagnaro’s cross was deflected in off the helpless Roma defender Juan for an own goal, lifting the hosts to second in the league.
Mazzarri said afterwards: “I am worn out, but very happy with this great victory. I follow the games with great intensity. I live them with emotion. Only the people who do this job know what it means to prepare for six games in two weeks like what happened to us. Stress and tiredness take over, above all for someone like me who dedicates an entire week to the preparation for a match.” On the win over Roma, Mazzarri said: “I can’t be the one to say that our football is the best. Certainly, we play good football. The team entertains and it has fun itself. It’s a Napoli that expresses real emotion, and for this reason I like it. “You know I never look at the table, above all at this point of the season. We must face each game as it comes and give the maximum in Italy and in Europe. “Being up there is certainly a reason for everyone to be satisfied, for the club, the team and above all the fans who are our motor. “It wasn’t easy to be in this position in light of the congested fixture list, of the encounters with important teams such as Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Roma, and with the European games in addition. “The first part of the season has been busy but we have managed to do well. And we don’t want to stop,” he concluded.
Hamsik, who has scored twice this week, puts his goal-scoring prowess down to his advanced position, behind Lavezzi and Cavani. The Slovakian said: “On a personal level, things are now going better. Mazzarri has found the right position to get the best out of me and I have even started to score some goals. “I would have been able to score another one, but their goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont overcame a couple of chances, above all in the first half.” Hamsik finished: “In all, it was quite a balanced game until I scored. Then, little by little Roma disappeared.”
Napoli’s European and Serie A commitments are shelved this week, as the international break takes over. It will be a welcome rest for Mazzarri, before his side face Catania in two weeks.