Napoli on fire, Inzaghi buys time – four things we learned from the Champions League this week

It was a largely successful Champions League week for Italian clubs as three out of four claimed victories on Europe’s biggest stage.

Napoli obliterated Ajax, Inter’s win against Barcelona was mired in controversy, Milan fell meekly to Chelsea and Juventus were indebted to an unlikely hero.

Here are four things we learned from matchday three of the Champions League. 

Napoli can soar even higher after record breaking win

Luciano Spalletti’s great entertainers ascended to a mind-boggling peak of excellence as they destroyed Ajax in scintillating style in Amsterdam.

The six-goal display of near perfect attacking football even coaxed praise from myopic pundits that refuse to believe quality football is played outside the Premier League.

Yet there is the feeling that Napoli can improve even further – which is a frightening thought for the rest of the Champions League contenders. Spalletti’s side struck six but could have made it into double figures as Ajax capitulated under the relentless onslaught.

The most attractive side to watch in Europe dramatically reshaped their squad this term and there is definitely more to come from the club’s new stars. 

Spellbinding wing conjuror Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is just getting started while fellow new signings Giacomo Raspadori, Kim Min-jae and Tanguy Ndombele can also reach new levels.

The biggest challenge for the Partenopei, as always, is sustaining their thrilling start in Serie A and Europe.   

Inzaghi buys time at Inter

Simone Inzaghi’s uncomfortable sideways glance as Barcelona were denied a penalty summed up a tension-filled night as Inter claimed a typically dramatic Champions League victory at a cacophonous San Siro.

Ninth in Serie A and with an astounding four league defeats already, the pressure was firmly on the 46-year-old. Other coaches have been sacked for less, yet Inzaghi looks set to stay on after a defiant performance clouded by yet another predictable VAR controversy.

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez was incredulous his side were not given a spot-kick after Denzel Dumfries appeared to handle the ball in the penalty area. 

His touchline actions even suggested there was foul play in the decision making process from the officials.

However the club which loftily bills itself as ‘more than a club’ have had more favourable calls over the decades than most of Europe’s elite and should quietly accept defeat.

Inzaghi nevertheless was indebted to midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu whose measured long range winner lifted the Nerazzurri to second in Group C. Inter will need the continued leadership and resilience of Milan Škriniar and Alessandro Bastoni in defence if they are to record another positive result in the return fixture at Camp Nou.  

Milan must strengthen in January

Outclassed and overpowered by Chelsea, the need for squad reinforcement was glaring as the Italian champions fell to a dispiriting three-goal defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Exposed on the flanks and outrun in midfield, the loss of influential first-team defensive mainstays Mike Maignan, Theo Hernandez, Davide Calabria and Simon Kjær (among others) to injury was sorely felt. Replacement full-backs Fodé Ballo-Touré and Sergiño Dest cannot be faulted for effort but a collective defensive collapse led Chelsea to plunder three relatively simple goals.

Whether new Rossoneri owners RedBird are willing to splash out to improve the depth of the player pool is uncertain. Milan could already be out of the Champions League before then. Much more is needed from star winger Rafael Leão and summer marquee signing Charles De Ketelaere if the Scudetto holders are to make amends when Chelsea travel to San Siro next week.

Individual brilliance masks Juventus defensive frailty 

Goals from Adrien Rabiot are as rare as overcooked pasta in a high-end ristorante.

The French midfielder will probably never win over the majority of the Juventus tifosi but his unexpected brace helped the Bianconeri overcome fierce resistance from minnows Maccabi Haifa in 3-1 opening Champions League victory.

Inspired by a trio of assists from creative maestro Ángel Di María, the Old Lady still looked shaky as they withstood a lively comeback from the unfavoured Israeli side.

Despite the high profile summer addition of Bremer in defence the back four were frequently rattled in an unsettling second half in which Maccabi Haifa struck the woodwork three times.    

Juve must find a way to tighten up their rear-guard if they are to have any chance of catching Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica at the top of Group H.

@SKasiewicz

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