Italian giants Napoli look to take the initiative in a three horse race to get out of their UEFA Europa League Group as they face bottom club Rijeka.Embed from Getty Images
After a disappointing start to their Europa League campaign following a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of AZ Alkmaar, Napoli are back in business as they look to progress to the next stage of Europe’s second tier competition. Following the Matchday 1 defeat, Napoli went on to bounce back with an impressive win at Real Sociedad, before a less than convincing win in Croatia against tonight’s opponents.
As for Rijeka, the Croatians are missing 3 key players following positive COVID-19 tests, as if tonights test wasn’t already hard enough. They are already effectively eliminated from the competition, needing a mathematical and probability miracle to make it out of the Group Stage following three straight defeats.
The visitors will no doubt harbour some hope following a resolute performance in Croatia, as well as an impressive win against Lokomotiv Zagreb in their previous game prior to the international break. However, playing Napoli in the Stadio San Paolo poses a completely different challenge altogether; with or without the Neopolitan crowd.
Napoli will pay respect to their late hero, Diego Maradona before the game today, and touchingly will have his picture in a Napoli shirt on the screen for the longevity of the game. With emotions undoubtedly running high, it’s important for Gennaro Gattuso to rally his troops and keep the focus on the task at hand in order to get a win to honour Maradona’s name.
Kick Off- 1′ – The action begins in the Stadion San Paolo following a touching tribute to Napoli Legend. The late, great, Diego Maradona.
4′- Di Lorenzo chips the ball in to Elmas who was stretching to make contact and stabbed the ball wide. The interesting thing tonight will be to see how the players control their emotions surrounding the tragic death of unquestionably their best ever player.
6′- Napoli already putting pressure on the Croat’s with a long range volley from Diego Demme flying wide.
7′- HUGE CHANCE FOR THE AWAY SIDE- The best chance of what is already shaping up to being a very open game has fallen to the Croatian side. It was good work from Gnezda Cerin that allowed him to play Franko Andrijasevic in, with the 29 year old taking a wild strike over the bar. Rijeka really should be a goal to the good here.
12′- It’s clear Rijeka will be more than happy to just sit in and use Andrijasevic as their target man up top.
17′- Napoli struggling to get a hold on this game as of now. Could be a frustrating evening if they don’t improve.
23′- Calamitous defending from Rijeka!- Young Hrvoje Smolcic ricocheted the ball off his team mate and presented it straight to Andrea Petagna who fires his shot straight at the keeper. Playing an 18 year old centre
28′- NAPOLI HAD TO SCORE- Ghoulam did brilliantly to thread the ball through for Matteo Politano who tried to stab the ball past the on rushing keeper. Nevistic saved well and the follow up effort was blazed wildly over the bar by Zielinski.
33′- Rijeka responded to the consistent pressure by mounting a dangerous counter attack where Andrijasevic carried the ball 20 yards before offloading to Muric, who fired the ball wide. A sign of the threat the visitors can pose.
34′- OUTSTANDING SAVE- Napoli worked the ball brilliantly before Zielinski played a clever ball over the top of the defender’s head to Di Lorenzo. The Italian international got everything right as he tried to hook the ball past Nevistic but the Rijeka keeper stretched out a huge right paw to claw the ball away. Best chance of the game so far.Embed from Getty Images
38′- Game really starting to bubble as we approach half time, Napoli look to be getting closer…
41′- GOOOOALLLLL NAPOLI- A lucky break for Zielinski allowed him to run the ball to the by line before drilling the ball across the box where Matteo Politano was waiting to tap the ball home. Fittingly, it was the left boot that was used so majestically by one Diego Maradona.Embed from Getty Images
44′- Almost instantaneously, Rijeka almost had their response as Loncar fired a mediocre effort that was inexplicably spilled by Alex Meret. The consequential corner resulted in a second effort from Loncar, this one with far more conviction on both the strike and the save.
Half Time- SSC Napoli 1-0 NK Rijeka
A forgetful first half on a night that won’t be forgotten by those involved with Napoli. Maradona’s picture watched over the action from the big screen and surely would have been unimpressed with the outing were he there to see it in person. Nonetheless, Napoli have their lead that they probably just about deserved in the end. Rijeka defended resolutely against a far from clinical Napoli attack and created their own chances on the counter. However, it is the Italian side that go in with the slender half time lead, and we may see the big guns such as Insigne, Lozano and Mertens in the 2nd Half. As the game inevitably becomes more open whilst Rijeka push for an equaliser, this could result in more opportunities to make the scoreline a little more handsome. That being said, Rijeka are by no means out of this game and proved that with their flurry of pressure leading up to half time.
Kick Off- 45′- The Second period gets underway in the Stadio San Paolo…
50′- Rijeka showing further sign of intent as Muric causes more problems down the right hand side as he delivered the ball into Andrijasevic whose header was wayward.
52′- Nice, flowing football from Napoli in the lead up to a flick on from Zielinski falling to Diego Demme who ran onto the strike and fired it wide of the target.
60′- Napoli controlling possession without creating a substantial number of chances to kill the game off.
64′- A double substitution for the home side, as Lorenzo Insigne and Hirving Lozano come on in place of Piotr Zielinski and Matteo Politano.
69′- Unsurprisingly, the trio is completed as Dries Mertens is introduced as well as Stanislav Lobotka are brought on Elmas and Diego Demme.
73′- Petagna is seemingly failing to stake his claim for a regular starting place in this Napoli side. Giovanni Di Lorenzo curled in a delicious ball right onto the edge of the six yard box but Petagna did not make enough meaningful contact to turn the ball home.
75′- Another big chance
75′- GOOOALLLLL- Napoli have surely killed the game off now. Lorenzo Insigne showing his quality and playing a sumptuous ball into Hirving Lozano, before the Mexican international composed himself and stroked the ball past the keeper. The substitutes making an impact and killing the game off as a contest, which I’m sure was the desired effect for Gennaro Gattuso.Embed from Getty Images
78′- Substitution for Rijeka as Sterling Yateke is brought on in place of Robert Muric.
79′- Lozano has without a doubt changed the game, evident here shown by his tenacity to win the ball back as he turns and fires a powerful effort just over the bar.
80′- Another Substitution for Rijeka as Filip Braut replaces Armando Anastasio who cut out a figure of a man who was out on their feet.
82′- Final Substitution for Napoli as Andrea Petagna is replaced by Fabian Ruiz.
83′- A cultured cross field ball from Kalidou Koulibaily finds Ghoulam before the Algerian found Insigne. Insigne opened out his body and tried to curl the ball past Nevistic, but the Croatian keeper was equal to the effort.
87′- Double Substitution for Rijeka as the away side introduces some of their young talent for a few minutes of vital experience. Matija Frigan and Veldin Hodza introduced in place of Andrijasevic and Gnezda Cerin.
90′ So nearly 3-0 as Insigne worked a beautiful give and go with Lobotka leaving him one on one with Nevistic, who once again was equal to the effort and makes a great stop.
90+1′- Play opens up as the game comes to a close and Stanislav Lobotka saw it as his chance to get on the scoresheet. The Slovakian opened out his body and fired in a low, drilled effort saved by the keeper.
90+2′- Maskimovic finds Insigne for the another go at the perfect end to the game, but Insigne dinked the ball over the keeper and high and wide over the target.
Full Time- SSC Napoli 2-0 NK Rijeka– A comfortable win for Napoli but once again a performance that lacked conviction and end product. These fixtures are such that should be won by a margin for teams like Napoli, and they failed to do so. Of course, the immediacy and rawness of the tragic news that has rocked Naples must be taken into account and it was admirable that the players went out there and still put a shift in. In addition, when you consider the home side made six changes, its perhaps not surprising they lacked a cutting edge. Maybe in a dream world there would have been a few more fairytale outcomes in the game, but in all honesty this was a disjointed Napoli side scraping past below par opposition.
This victory does, however, massively improve the outlook on Group F from a Neopolitan perspective as Napoli now go top of the pile following a scoreless draw between AZ Alkmaar and Real Sociedad in the Netherlands tonight. With the quality that Napoli possess within their ranks, there is nothing that would suggest that they cannot go deep in this competition. However, they will face much tougher tests the further they go and can ill afford to be so wasteful against better opposition.
Napoli look forward to a huge clash with AS Roma in Serie A on Sunday as they look to bounce back from a defeat against AC Milan and remain in the title race. Following that, they can confirm their group stage qualification in the Europa League away at AZ Alkmaar this coming Thursday. As for Rijeka, they have a tough league game against 2nd place Osijek, before they play for pride against Real Sociedad in Spain.
Thanks for reading, Kieran