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Coppa Italia: Semi-finals Team rating: 5/10 Top scorer: Lorenzo Insigne (19) Europe: Europa League Round of 32
A last-round drama saw Napoli miss out on a top-four finish once again, but the Partenopei have only themselves to blame after another poorly-managed season, writes Vilizar Yakimov.
Napoli fall short once again
By now, everybody who loves Napoli must’ve got used to it. The excitement, the drama, the disappointment. The Partenopei have always had the ability to rise from the ashes, but at the same time to get it all wrong when it matters most and the latter is exactly what they did on the final day against Verona. All Napoli had to do in order to reach the top four was to beat a side that was on an eight-game winless streak and seemed to have switched to vacation mode a while ago.
A Davide Faraoni equaliser prevented Rino Gattuso’s men from doing so. The 1-1 draw meant Napoli missed out on the Champions League for a second consecutive year and resulted in Aurelio De Laurentis announcing the coach’s exit shortly after the game. Indeed, this is a sad ending to a season that could’ve gone much differently as it started with a lot of promise and ambition.
Winning the Coppa Italia after such a turbulent season last term was supposed to give Gattuso a sense of security at the start of the campaign and the early signs were promising. The arrival of Victor Osimhen for the record-breaking €70m fee plus bonuses brought hope and enthusiasm, while the loan of Tiemoue Bakayoko meant Gattuso could count on one of his favourites once again.
However, Napoli failed to address some significant issues in the squad during the brief summer Mercato, as the unsettled Arkadiusz Milik was still at the club, alongside Fernando Llorente, another outcast. At the same time, a number of players were already under the last year of their contracts, so inevitably, their future and commitment were already in question.
Napoli started the year in fantastic fashion, winning four consecutive games, scoring 14 goals in the process. However, there was tension when they didn’t make the trip to Turin for the match scheduled for October 4, 2020 against Juventus because they had two players test positive for COVID-19. Piotr Zielinski and Eljif Elmas had contracted the virus and the club argued it had been banned from travelling by the local health authority, which urged the team to self-isolate as a precaution.
But Juventus and the Lega Serie A pointed out that two cases didn’t warrant pulling out of the match. The Bianconeri turned up to the Stadium and won the game by default, but the CONI Collegio di Garanzia overturned the decision in December and rescheduled the game.
The Azzurri were even tipped as worthy Scudetto contenders, but this quickly changed after their first defeat against Sassuolo in Week 5. A couple of yo-yo results showed that consistency was still lacking as Milan, Inter, and Lazio emerged victorious against the Partenopei.
On November 25, the city was shaken by the death of club legend Diego Armando Maradona, who passed away in his home in Tigre, Argentina, aged 60. The Azzurri hosted Rijeka in a Europa League clash the day after and in December, the Stadio San Paolo was named after the Argentinean legend.
During the season, Gattuso had to cope with several injuries and COVID cases. Star signing Osimhen, Kalidou Koulibaly and other key figures were forced to miss a significant part of the campaign.
The 2-1 defeat against Spezia in January at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona was undoubtedly tough to swallow, as Napoli lost despite managing 29 shots and 62% of possession. Nevertheless, the Partenopei responded quickly with victories against Udinese, Empoli in the Coppa Italia and a 6-0 thrashing against Fiorentina. Those results as well as the fact the Azzurri failed to show up for the Serie A derby against Juventus earlier in the season made the upcoming Super Coppa final even more important.
Unfortunately for Gattuso’s men, they came short once again in a decisive game as Lorenzo Insigne was left in tears after missing a penalty, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata fired Juventus to a 2-0 victory and deprived Napoli.
This was obviously a huge psychological blow, as the Partenopei won just one of their following five games, before Insigne had his revenge by scoring from the spot for a 1-0 win against the Bianconeri. Despite this, February ended downhill, as Napoli lost to Atalanta and were eliminated by Granada from the Europa League.
De Laurentis didn’t make Gattuo’s job any easier, as the eccentric president kept having arguments with pretty much everyone around him. Despite this, Rino managed to bounce back again and climbed up the table to fourth place by losing only one from the remaining 15 games prior to the 1-1 draw with Verona.
However, in a typical fashion, Napoli blew it all away on the final day and came short on pretty much all of their season targets, so it seems that we are in for another summer of uncertainties in Naples.
The Coach – Genaro Gattuso
One can’t help but sympathize with Gattuso after a season like this. The coach really did his best to keep together a locker-room that was not addressed properly during the summer and nearly won a trophy and secured a top-four finish. However, after missing on both in such a dramatic fashion, it was inevitable that he would be made a scapegoat for the second time in his brief managerial career. Nevertheless, just like at Milan, Gattuso proved to be a capable coach, and it’s no coincidence he was appointed Fiorentina coach two days after the end of the season.
Player of the Year – Lorenzo Insigne
Although the season ended in disappointment, the Captain can be satisfied with his individual performance. Insigne’s season was the most productive one in his career as the 29-year-old ended the campaign with 19 goals and seven assists. Too often, the local favourite was surrounded by a lack of desire and, at times, ability, but he always led the line admirably and should be proud of his growth.
Defining moment – The Verona nightmare
Napoli failed to win both games against Ivan Juric’s side, but the 1-1 draw in the final game is a result that will be remembered for years. The way Napoli bounced after the Super Coppa defeat was impressive and it was really heart-breaking for the club to miss out on the Champions League like this. To make matters even worse, their harsh rivals Juventus made the most of the stalemate and earned a Champions League spot. Now, the most important thing for the club now is to plan carefully for the next season and not repeat the same mistakes.
Did you know?
Lorenzo Insigne scored 19 goals this season and became Napoli’s fourth-best scorer of all time with 109 goals, six short of Diego Armando Maradona.