I want to make this very very clear. Napoli is a very good team, Maggio did not deserve a red card, and this slug fest is far from over. I don’t feel the need to discuss the refs, I am not a Roma fan and don’t feel the need to bash refs or critique them. Ref’s are human, and they need to make split second decisions that none of us would want to make given the circumstances. I don’t believe there is a place for replay in Calcio, and it ruins a single fundamental piece of soccer that distinguishes it from every other sport on the globe, flow. We all want to look for someone to blame when are team loses or plays poorly, and it is usually the refs, but these decisions even out over the course of the season and they have already taken up to much discussion time here.
Napoli did not play poorly, and really have no one to blame. They stood toe to toe with Milan, and did not deserve the end result, but we have said the same about Milan time and again, but sometimes a little luck goes a long way in the run for the scudetto. The first forty minutes or so showed both teams capable of attacking, but Milan with the edge in possession and the chances on goal. Napoli kept Milan honest by breaking out with pace time and time again with the likes of Dennis, Lavezzi, Maggio, Hamsik and Gargano. The real stars for Napoli were Santacroce and Cannavaro, with Rino handing Hamsik his ass, and ultimately an early seat on the bench with a knock.
The loss of Hamsik and then Santacroce proved to be the real turning points of this match, despite Napoli playing a man down with the loss of Maggio. Santacroce kept Ronaldinho in his back pocket to the point that Dinho wandered wide right to keep away from the Napoli RB. It wasn’t until Santacroce was subbed, that Dinho started to really make an impact. But even then, Milan’s Brazilian heavy attack was not at it’s best today, which makes the game even more important. Championship caliber squads find a way to win even when they are not at their best, and this game was a real example.
Kaka, Dinho, and Pato had the polar opposite performance of Ronaldo, Pato, and Kaka earlier in 2008. Kaka seemed to play more with his head down than usual, and at times forced the ball at his feet to the point that my frustration went through the roof. The PK was poor, but the rest of the game was not that good either, losing his cool near the end which could have very well saw him off with two yellows. Dinho was close to the same, specifically with the ball at his feet, but made amends with his passing and vision. He still has the tendency to slow the ball down to a walk on the break, and if he could get a hop in his step would add a new dimension to the attack. Pato failed to really get in the game and blocked a goal from Borriello and missed a sitter when he decided to head a ball better meant for his feet.
The Brazilians were not the only ones who had poor games with Borriello and Ambro blowing hot and cold as well. Janks however dominated the left flank and as Napoli wore down, Zambro pushed the issue on the right as well. The standout performance for me though was Rino who met every ball with force making sure Napoli was never comfortable in transition. When Rino is fired up this team is very capable and very dangerous. I just hope that when Milan makes the trip to Naples they are fully aware of the rivalry that this match awakened, and that the scudetto may very well be contested between these very good squads.
We talked at length about ugly games and ugly wins, but the road to the scudetto is long and full of tough games. Every title contender gets a friendly bounce, lucky roles, and wins when maybe they didn’t play like they deserved it. But the more I watch this team, the more I feel what Fetyani calls that “special feeling.”
I will end this post with the Rossoneri in their rightful spot atop the Serie A table.