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Wednesday November 27 2013
Napoli pain, Milan joy

Napoli fell to a 3-1 defeat at Borussia Dortmund, while Milan grabbed a much-needed win over Celtic. Luca Cetta wraps up the action and wonders what it all means for Matchday 6.

Just three clubs had booked their passage to the knock-out phase following the opening four Champions League matches, but none were Italian, nor clubs in their group. With 180 minutes remaining, a draw for Napoli – away at Borussia Dortmund – would ensure qualification. Maximum points at Celtic would put Milan in a great position.

Results were mixed – a loss in Germany and win in Scotland, meaning qualification remains up in the air for two of Italy’s competitors.

The Partenopei have experience playing against German clubs. On their way to lifting the 1988-89 UEFA Cup, Diego Maradona and his men grabbed crucial draws at Bayern Munich and Stuttgart, the latter in the Final itself. More recently, they were defeated by the Bavarians their last time in the premier competition. A repeat of the former result they were seeking, another loss would make things complicated.

Rafael Benitez spoke of a great respect for Dortmund in the Press Conference but unlike at Arsenal, they did not let that translate to the pitch in the opening minutes. At the Emirates two early goals sealed the contest. Here, Napoli – two consecutive Serie A defeats – didn’t let Jurgen Klopp’s side find a rhythm.

Napoli looked settled until Federico Fernandez tugged Robert Lewandowski’s shirt at a set piece to concede a penalty in the 10th minute. It was a foul reminiscent of Real Madrid’s penalty in the first match against Juventus, the sort of tussle referees ignore in Serie A. It’s something all clubs must work on when playing in Europe. Benitez conceded Marco Reus’ early conversion changed everything.

Pepe Reina was on fire and kept Napoli in the hunt. Forced to build again, they very nearly capped a good period through Jose Callejon, whose shot bounced off the woodwork. The hosts had the better of the chances but found Reina a one-man wall. Nonetheless, Napoli should have found an equaliser through Gonzalo Higuain after half-time. His miss proved costly as less than a minute later Jakub Blaszczykowski converted at the other end following a deadly counter.

Lorenzo Insigne was busy once introduced from the bench and halved the deficit. Chasing another goal, Napoli played into Dortmund’s hands by leaving defensive gaps. The counter-attacking masters made sure of the points as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coolly finished.

“We certainly need to have more belief, as we are a side with a lot of quality and can play at the highest level,” lamented Goran Pandev at full-time. They’ll certainly need it in their final clash.

While Napoli were up against it in Germany, over in Glasgow Milan finally sparked their campaign. They came into this critical match without a win in seven in all competitions. Fans displayed their frustrations during and following the disappointing home draw with Genoa on Saturday.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side needed a positive response. It would have to come at a ground where they’ve struggled, not to mention ending their road duck this term. Milan got their tonic as Kaka lit up Celtic Park with a European performance rolling back the years.

He netted his first continental goal since returning less than 15 minutes in, a glancing header from close range. Milan needed a leader and the 2007 Ballon d’Or winner stepped up with a fine showing. He was busy creating chances and nearly doubled the advantage too.

That accolade instead fell to Cristian Zapata. Like Higuain’s chance, Celtic could have equalised and were punished shortly after. Never far from the headlines, Mario Balotelli then grabbed a much-needed goal and confidence boost, ending a near two-month scoring drought on the hour.

“This was important for a series of reasons and in a very difficult arena we proved we’re alive and kicking,” commented Christian Abbiati following the 3-0 win.

They may sit 13th in Serie A, but Allegri’s men are currently the only Italian side – with Juventus still to play their fifth game – sitting in a qualification position. The scenario for Milan in a fortnight is simple – avoid defeat at home versus Ajax to qualify. They could even finish top with a win and another surprise Barcelona defeat.

Napoli’s situation is more complicated. Aubameyang’s goal gave Dortmund the edge in head-to-head rankings. Given it’s entirely possible the Azzurri, Dortmund and Arsenal will finish on 12 points, it puts Napoli at a disadvantage. Now third, the southern club must defeat Arsenal by three goals to qualify with a better head-to-head record. Anything less – with an accompanying Dortmund win over Marseille – sees Napoli exit.

It means Matchday 6 will prove to be a cracking, but nervous, affair for all Italian clubs. We may see a clean sweep either way – let’s hope it ends with a trio of sides contesting the last 16. 

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Have your say...
That mentality thing is total BS. Been watching italian teams since 1982. In fact they are probably the strongest mentally. Lazy, that is what italians are by nature, and that's what often gets in their way. That also guarantees drama in their every match, and that's also one of the reasons I'm Italy's fan while not being an italian. Italy only produces under pressure, that's it, period. The stronger the pressure, the better Italy shows up.
on the 30th November, 2013 at 9:36pm
It really frustrates me when our teams do this, just as much as sitting on a slender lead. I stand by my earlier criticisms about our pathetic excuses. The Spaniards have played many more games-practically non-stop for the last 5 years-yet you rarely hear them speak of suffering or blaming pre-season for poor results/performances; which they seldom have. We need more coaches like Conte, coaches that can constantly push the players, & not them slack off.
on the 30th November, 2013 at 10:14am
Dom, no worries! Ricardo & Mattias, some good counter points there! You cannot underestimate the influence of the coach & the mentality that they can instill into the players. Mou & Lippi, like the 3 of you have said, are fine examples. Conte is in a similar mould. My problem is perhaps the mental consistency of the players. There are too many times where our teams make a timid start to a game & play with the handbrake on: surrendering the initiative to our opponents...tbc
on the 30th November, 2013 at 9:58am
4 world cups and one euro!!! Enuf said!!
on the 30th November, 2013 at 12:20am
Marshall

You can find it disturbing all you want. But it is my view and i will make that generalisation if i choose to.

Daniel

You misunderstand. That post was me supporting Benitez as a good manager. I agree re the complacency comment though.

MustuffU

"say some sense" lol, SPAG - Spelling, Puntuation, And Grammar
on the 29th November, 2013 at 1:43pm
(cont.) such that penalties are problematic as compared to the "robotic" Germans, but if anything, the history shows a "cultural" lean towards complacency and not turning it on until the pressure is on. How many times has the national team dug itself a hole in qualification in a major tournament, piling adversity and pressure on itself, only to come through. Did the players on the '82 team lack balls? the '94 team? the '98 team when playing tournament favorite France to a draw?
on the 29th November, 2013 at 1:18pm
Not following DOMINATOR at all. If Italians are psychologically weak, explain the national team's success. Were they psychologically weak when playing with then men for 70 mins. against Hiddink's Australia and prevailing? When playing with t en against the heavily-favored Dutch in Euro 2000 and winnning on penalties? When taking out Germany in 120 mins. in '06? When dragging themselves onto the field against France? I've read Italian players jokingly refer to the Italian psyche as emotional ...
on the 29th November, 2013 at 1:13pm
Wow did you see the news about Galliani? The blog on that should be interesting. I'd like to get in first and say this is probably the best for everyone. Galliani did play his part in a hugely successful Milan side and has masterminded some fantastic transfers. I would say that this really should've come sooner. His last great signing was probably Thiago Silva. That's 5 years without a truly world class signings and a lot of duds along the way. It'll be interesting to see a list of his signings!
on the 29th November, 2013 at 12:53pm
Wow did you see the news about Galliani? The blog on that should be interesting. I'd like to get in first and say this is probably the best for everyone. Galliani did play his part in a hugely successful Milan side and has masterminded some fantastic transfers. I would say that this really should've come sooner. His last great signing was probably Thiago Silva. That's 5 years without a truly world class signings and a lot of duds along the way. It'll be interesting to see a list of his signings!
on the 29th November, 2013 at 12:52pm
I agree with Marshall 100%.
I think we all know that Italy won the World Cup in 2006, not just by their technical and tactical expertise, but mainly with strong mentality, given their domestic personal problems at club level. Given that the national team has no foreign influence, unlike Napoli who started with only one Italian, I think that shoots down the ignorant points raised by others. Other leagues benefit from more money - which I would argue is the main problem in Italy and them competing
on the 29th November, 2013 at 11:19am
Mentality beat Milan in Istanbul ?

Oh yeah, also the mentality disallowed Del Piero's goal at the Anfield, and the mentality gave a non-existent goal against Chelsea. How about you say some sense rather being a mentalist in here smart guy ?
on the 28th November, 2013 at 9:46pm
Dom, it wasn't Benitez that won that match. Milan stupidly thought that they had the game won at HT. They switched off for 10-15 mins & Liverpool made them pay. It was Gerrard that took the game by the scruff of the neck; assisted by Hamann who came on for Kewell-who really shouldn't have started because he was unfit (& not that good). In this case, I'd cite complacency, rather than a lack of nuts.
on the 28th November, 2013 at 8:49pm
While I agree that Napoli's main problem in Europe is psychological, I disagree with DOM that this points to a psychological "weakness" in all Italians. Such a statement is not only an offensive generalization, it is simple-minded. Frankly, I found it very disturbing that no one else challenged this idea. If you're going to play the role of football analyst, try to keep your personal prejudices out of it. I don't want to turn this into a separate discussion, but I do feel this needed to be said.
on the 28th November, 2013 at 7:22pm
I don't know but I have a feeling Dortmund are gonna slip up in marseille. We will get are revenge on arsenal and hopefully by 3 goals.
on the 28th November, 2013 at 3:23pm
Poor Greaseman, he looks like a half-wit today.
on the 28th November, 2013 at 3:06pm
Now people are criticising Benitez. He is tried and tested. His liverpool team that beat milan in istanbul wasnt a great team. It is the mentality. The british fight back. Germans and the spanish fight back.

You look at italians, there is no fight. The match is lost before they get on the field. I was reading a boxing article on Pacquiao just now, made me wonder why there are no half decent italian boxers. Not known for being fighters really.
on the 28th November, 2013 at 1:57pm
Agree with those that are commenting on mental fragility of the Italian teams. You see them crumble so many times when opposing fans in opposing stadiums drown them out, suddenyl they can't pass properly. It is fear, an embedded fear within the psyche lol.

Just look at itner before Jomo came, they were a joke in the CL, Jomo comes along and suddenly they are beating Barca, Chelsea and Munich?

It is psychological. It takes a very good manager. Allegri isnt cut out for it. Benitez and Conte r
on the 28th November, 2013 at 1:53pm
Too many average players at Napoli - Berhami, Dezmaili, Zuniga, Armero, Mertens, Zapata. Napoli have been dressed up to be something they are not. If they had Italians with with same quality as those mentioned above, they would have played with more heart. It's the same for clubs from other nations. If you have average players - you get more from home grown average players. Look at Milan in recent years - they got great performances from Bonera, Antonini etc in the CL.
on the 28th November, 2013 at 8:01am
What does your comment about non-existent penalty mean? Are you saying it is right for a player to hang on to the jersey of his opponent instead of looking at the ball? Personally I would award a penalty every time a player does that rubbish in the box. I rate Nesta very highly but he used to annoy me with his shirt tugging.The defender last nite wssnt even sly about it, just blatant shirt holding. And would you get over calciopoli already, Juve are champs cos they r d best in Italy
on the 28th November, 2013 at 2:53am
Napoli was outdone by a non-existent penalty. For a second there i thought i was watching a Rubentus game
on the 27th November, 2013 at 9:27pm
I agree with DOM, we are mentally weak! Always making feeble excuses, such as blaming pre-season (club & country) for our early season failures. We then have Prandelli saying that he doesn't have enough time with his players. The thing is, these issues are not just exclusive to Italy-aside from perhaps Germany who have a longer mid-season break & a smaller league. When I hear our players/coaches say how they have 'suffered', I cringe. We need to be more ruthless & go for the jugular.
on the 27th November, 2013 at 7:17pm
@ Daniel I agree it has to be a combination of those elements but the question is how so we solve it particularly if it's psychological. Is allegri to blame or Galliani because the team is seemingly good enough for Europe but not for serie a. And serie a is no longer even a strong league? The fact that milan seem to get all the luck in Europe and juve in serie a points to belief. Milan have no belief in serie a. But then you look at the run last season. It's bizarre
on the 27th November, 2013 at 6:46pm
So Milan showed that they are still European contenders. Kaka kracking as usual & nice goals from Zapata & especially Balo. Ive said it before he needs the ball in front of him to do anything otherwise all he can do is use his strength to hold the ball or claim a foul + Bobans comments him couldnt be more right

DOM spot on Italian teams do need to grow a pair. They are not lacking in talent but in 'balls' although i dont see why Milan will get crushed based on last nights performance.
on the 27th November, 2013 at 5:26pm
If it wasn't for that idiot Armero, Napoli would still be in a good position to qualify, but now thanks to him they're as good as done, unless miraculously Marseille don't lose to Dortmund. Rubentus is also done, they're bottom of a group that they should be winning based on their league form, but obviously their league form is all due to paying off referees, can't do that in the CL.
on the 27th November, 2013 at 3:20pm
4 clubs actually booked their spots in the Round of 16 after Matchday 4 - Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid
on the 27th November, 2013 at 3:09pm
Mustafaa, I have doubts over Benitez: too much rotation; tactically rigid-always 4231; he has always looked to spend his way out of trouble, rather than coach & improve his existing players; & who can forget that he wanted to switch Xabi Alonso for Gareth Barry. He did do well at Chelsea, Liverpool, & Valencia, but then he did have some great players at his disposal. I want Napoli to succeed (& get more Italians in the squad), so I hope that he does well.
on the 27th November, 2013 at 2:32pm
Maldini's Heir, psychology, luck, & attitude? So many variables! Balo looked focused last night. As for Juve, they were unlucky not to win in Denmark, & didn't deserve to lose in Spain. They are playing much better now. Earlier on in the season, they were getting results whilst not being all that convincing, particularly in Serie A. Hopefully they'll get a convincing win tonight, but the game in Turkey will be tough. Good luck to Juve, Lazio, & the Viola!
on the 27th November, 2013 at 2:18pm
italian teams need to grow a pair. They pshologically crumble in the dressing room when faced with the pressure of beating a foreign team.

This is why i think italian football needs more foreign managers. We need guys like rafa to try and instill some confidence into italians.

Italian teams also need to buy spanish players. They run the market at the minute. Buy spanish.
on the 27th November, 2013 at 1:35pm
matchday 6 will not cause anxiety. Milan will go through only to be brutally destroyed in the knock out round. Napoli are out. They wouldnt beat arsenal 3-0 on a good day, let alone when arsenal are in this form.

Juve are the only team who are in the balance. as a juve supporter, if juve do go out i dont care as the pathetic performances from them deserve to be demoted. if we cant beat teams like copen and the turks, we will just get destroyed in the knockouts. concentrate on the 30th title
on the 27th November, 2013 at 1:31pm
Juve and Milan should still go through, but Napoli are as good as out.

A 3 goal win over Arsenal is unlikely but they still need to beat The Gunners and hope for a huge favour from pointless Marseille.

At least the French team will be at home and the pressure is off them.
on the 27th November, 2013 at 12:39pm

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