Those who watched Napoli’s home fixture with Juventus last Sunday witnessed yet another win for the all-conquering Bianconeri, but also a superb second half performance from Carlo Ancelotti’s men. After both teams had a man sent off, Napoli deserved to take at least a point from the match, but a 2-1 win on the night saw Juve effectively win the Serie A title, ending up 16 points clear of their second placed opponents.
Yet every cloud has a silver lining.
“I was genuinely surprised by how superior we were to Juve once it went to 10 against 10,” Ancelotti told Sky Italia after the match. “It showed how much quality there is in this team so we’ve got to become more and more convinced of our own capabilities.”
That second half performance demonstrated that – although Napoli are out of contention for both a league title and a Coppa Italia trophy – they can very much concentrate on winning the Europa League this season.
On Thursday night, they face the first of a two-legged tie versus Red Bull Salzburg for a chance to reach the quarter-final of the competition, one which Ancelotti believes is growing in stature.
“Salzburg attack more and play high up the pitch. Tomorrow evening’s game will help us plan for the return,” the experienced boss told reporters ahead of the home tie. “There are teams still in the Europa League who have experience and tradition in Europe. The technical level is almost equal. The Europa League is gaining prestige. Manchester United, Sevilla and Chelsea have won it.”
Having won the Champions League on three separate occasions, Ancelotti will be keen to add the Europa League to his list of honours as a Coach. With all their focus solely on bringing home this particular trophy, Napoli can genuinely cite lifting the trophy as a realistic expectation for 2018/19.
Predicted lineups expect the boss to start Dries Mertens (£1.29) alongside Arkadiusz Milik (£2.90) up front on Thursday evening. The latter striker has already fired in 14 times in the league this term and will be looking to open his account in Europe, while his pint-sized Belgian partner should give him a hand, having provided seven assists in the league so far.
🎙 Mertens: "We gave everything. We’re disappointed because we absolutely didn't deserve to lose. When it went to 2-0, anyone else would have thought all is lost, but not us. We gave our all and all that was missing to come back was a bit of luck". #NapoliJuventus pic.twitter.com/kdHVQUUiq3
— Everything Napoli (@NapoliAndNaples) March 4, 2019
During the last three seasons, Napoli have made a reputation for playing excellent football but still have nothing to show for it, a major factor that prompted the hiring of Ancelotti. This is a man who knows how to win trophies, and now is the time for this club to show and prove they are more than the platitudes that have been bestowed upon them.