Marek Hamsik has no doubt that even though Napoli have fallen from fourth spot to eighth place, that they can still qualify for Europe this season.
“We still believe in Europe and we want to redeem ourselves against Milan.”
Hamsik who has just signed a deal to keep him at the San Paolo until 2015 is still confident that even though current form has deserted them that the Partenopei still have what it takes to jump above Genoa and Juventus and claim a Europa Cup berth. Napoli have not won in their last seven games and will be looking to the game away at Milan this weekend to put this right.
Napoli started the season in unconvincing and erratic style defeats against Palermo, Genoa, Inter and Roma were only disappointingly separated with victory’s at Livorno, Siena and a draw at Udinese. This was enough for Chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis who disposed of Roberto Donadoni[ and opted for a new coach Walter Mazzarri. This was something of a revelation as Mazzarri had an immediate effect on the Napolitans; a win against Bologna was the start of an amazing fifteen game unbeaten run. This included some memorable games including a one goal victory away at Fiorentina, a two all draw with Milan and most memorable was an away win by three goals to two against Northern giants Juventus. These results coupled with the team spirit that had been created by Mazzarri saw Napoli move up into the top four and look like they may challenge for the UEFA Champions League spots. The Partenopei could not be blamed for thinking that the Maradona years were not the only glory years they would see in their life time and the promise of matches against Europe’s elite would soon be gracing their beloved San Paolo again. Now if was February and Udinese away was next. What could go wrong?
Udinese led by the inspirational Antonio Di Natale tore Napoli apart. A Di Natale hat trick saw the Neapolitans loose by three goals to one signalling the end of the unbeaten run and warranting a response from Mazzarri’s men. The next game however, was against Inter and they managed a credible nil-nil draw, it was the failing to score at Siena in the following game in another nil-nil when alarm bells started to ring. Another draw followed this time against Roma and this was only possible due to a last minute penalty from Hamsik. Things then got even worse as a terrible display saw a defeat at Bologna and then last weeks three – one loss at home to Fiorentina saw them slip to eight place with Europe now looking as though it could slip from their grasp. Hamsik may still believe but Napoli have to identify the problem. Hamsik was himself asked this question and replied that: “We will try our best, because if we play how we know, we will be protagonists. The problem is only the goals. We create a lot, but we don’t manage to be protagonists. We have to exploit our chances. It’s the only way I know to get out of this rut.”
Five goals in seven games would tend to suggest that Hamsik is correct and if the front men could finish their chances then Napoli could soon be back in the running for the European spot. Hamsik himself however, is a main source of goals for Napoli but other than his penalty he has not hit the net in open play since November. When quizzed on this he replied with the shrewdness of a politician:
“It’s not important. I am only thinking about Napoli.”
Napoli face Milan next at the San Siro, the Partenopei as identified have not won in seven and have been scoring infrequently. Milan on the other hand are in fine form in the league. With the European exit behind them they have not lost in eight, their last defeat coming in the derby with Inter back in January. It will be a tall order for Napoli to get a result at the San Siro as Milan are only a point away from Inter in the race for the title and will not want to slip up when it has taken them so long to get this far.
One thing is certain this weekend; the City of Milan will shape both the title race and Napoli’s European ambitions. Milan will be divided on Sunday and for the first time the blue and black of Inter will be exchanged for the sky blue of Napoli.