Edy Reja will always have a special place in the hearts of Napoli supporters. The manager was in charge of the club during the darkest days in their history before leading their revival, yet this past weekend he was Napoli’s adversary.
As manager of Lazio these days, Reja’s men earned a well-deserved 2-0 win over Napoli in a genuine top of the table clash. Lazio had led Serie A all season before losing twice recently, and so dropped to second. Napoli have been in good form all term both domestically and in Europe, and were behind Lazio in third, but couldn’t get the win they needed to overtake them.
It must have been a strange sight for the travelling Napoli fans to see Reja in the dugout of the opposition. When the Vesuviani were on the brink of disaster following their well-publicised financial difficulties at the turn of the century, Reja was the man who was employed to lead them back up the divisions to where they belonged.
Appointed in 2005 when the club was in Serie C1, Reja was in the strange position of seeing the Stadio San Paolo sell 60,000 tickets every week regardless of the lowly divisional status. Reja got Napoli promoted at the first time of asking, before completing back-to-back promotions out of Serie B. He had led the fallen club back to Serie A for the first time since 2001 in just two seasons. But Reja was still going strong. In their debut season back in Serie A, Napoli finished high enough to qualify for the Intertoto Cup. The following campaign Reja’s men qualified for the UEFA Cup as a result of their Intertoto Cup success, but the high expectations placed on him were his undoing. Napoli were eliminated early on from the UEFA Cup and although they were nowhere near the relegation area, they were also not going to qualify for European competition the next season. Controversially Reja was sacked mid-way through the season. The decision to sack him is still a hot topic in Naples, as he led the club back from their period of all time, only to be kicked out unceremoniously just because the club were mid-table in Serie A.
But now Reja is Lazio boss, and his current team inflicted a third league defeat of the season on Napoli. Walter Mazzarri admitted before the match that his troops were struggling after a gruelling month where they have played eight games. Mazzarri named his strongest available team, save for the injured Salvatore Aronica and Andrea Dossena and the suspended Walter Gargano. Goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis was behind Gianluca Grava, Paolo Cannavaro and Hugo Campagnaro in defence. Christian Maggio, Michele Pazienza, Hassan Yebda and Luigi Vitale were across midfield, with Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani in attack.
Unfortunately, Napoli’s weary legs just didn’t get going in this match. A victory could have taken them second, but it was a hurdle too far on this occasion. Lazio’s Mauro Zarate scored a 15th minute opener, but it was contestable. He controlled a long ball on his chest, but with a hint of his arm too, before beating De Sanctis in goal.
Hamsik squandered Napoli’s best chance just a minute later when he couldn’t make contact when the ball was flashed across the goalmouth. Lavezzi came even closer to an equaliser when he curled a fantastic shot against the crossbar.
But with half an hour left it was 2-0. Zarate provided an assist and Sergio Floccari’s mis-hit shot found the bottom corner. It could have been even worse for the Vesuviani, when Zarate’s deflected shot found the woodwork.
Mazzarri complained afterwards: “We paid the price for fatigue and therefore lacked sharpness. Mauro Zarate’s handling offence for the goal seemed clear from the bench.”
Napoli still occupy third spot in Serie A, which is undoubtedly a fantastic achievement. The worry for Mazzarri is that he has lost the only two games he has played against teams in the upper echelons of the league – Milan and now Lazio. It is a worrying statistic is Napoli genuinely plan to upset the applecart and stay in the top three or four all season.
Mazzarri will be thrilled that the international weeks means a break for all of his squad, except for Cavani, Gargano, Lavezzi, Jose Sosa and Yebda. Napoli will appreciate a week to rest their tired legs before welcoming relegation-threatened Bologna to the San Paolo next weekend.