After their surprise loss to Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar, the onus was on Napoli to get back on track as they welcomed Feyenoord on matchday two on Tuesday evening.
With Manchester City expected to sweep aside Shakhtar, the Partenopei desperately needed to start putting some points on the board. Maurizio Sarri’s men have made a brilliant start to the season in Serie A and having seen off Nice to book their spot in the group stages, many had hoped to see them go as far in the tournament as possible.
So, after a mild hiccup, they finally seem to have gotten underway. Napoli recorded a 3-1 win to turn things around, and as things stand, now sit second in their quartet behind Manchester City, who sit on six points. The Sky Blues are the heavy favorites to top this group, but with a two-legged showdown set to come up next, anything can still happen. Here’s what we learned from Napoli’s comeback in the Champions League on matchday two.
1. Milik’s absence will have little impact on high-flying Napoli
Whilst the Polish attacker’s absence is a shame from a footballing perspective, it shouldn’t hamper the Partenopei too much. After all, he unfortunately was injured last season and Dries Mertens ended up being the beneficiary as the Belgian narrowly missed out on being crowned the Capocannoniere. Milik is set to miss another four months out after re-injuring his knee and requiring another procedure, and it seems like Napoli will be able to do just fine until he’s fit to return.
2. Dries Mertens is showing that last season truly was no fluke
Last season, Mertens racked up 28 goals in Serie A and 34 across all comps. So far, he’s netted six in six league apps and eight across all competitions, clearly showing that he’s picked up right where he’s left off. And as noted, with Milik now out for the long haul, he’s going to feature right back as that false no. 9 role he shone in. No wonder, then, that his coach Sarri was in awe of his player recently, quipping that one can only wonder what the player could have done had he played as an out-and-out striker for his entire career.
3. Napoli can certainly mix it up with some of the bigger sides…but consistency is key
The Partenopei do play some of the most exciting football in Europe. However, consistency is not their strong point, and they arguably do have the attacking firepower to be a strong contender to be one of Italy’s best representatives, alongside with Juventus in the knockout rounds. A showdown with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is next, and that should be a very entertaining tie as it’s with the Sky Blues that Napoli are expected to be fighting with for top spot in this quartet.
4. What’s gone amiss with captain Marek Hamsik though?
Something seems a bit amiss with Napoli’s skipper, however. Hamsik hasn’t been at his very best, and has been subbed off in several of Napoli’s matches, including this most recent fixture. Whilst he put in a good shift in the first 45, he faded during the second half and has not been up to par as of late as he chases down Maradona’s record.
Fans will hope to see a return to the normal form from the Slovak star, and perhaps the international break will see him rejuvenated and back on track as Napoli will need all hands on deck as they aim to knock Juventus off their Scudetto perch and make some major inroads in the Champions League this season.