x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Emphatic wins by AC Milan and Napoli show strength of Italian league

Milan's 4-0 destruction of Arsenal looked like a throwback to the 1990s, when English clubs cowed in the face of Italian might. Napoli's 3-1 win over Chelsea had elements of that, too.

Aurelio De Laurentiis, the president of Napoli, was talking ahead of the meeting between his club and Chelsea about his ideas for reforming European club competition.

"I would change everything, eliminate the Europa League, keep only the Champions League and add more clubs," he said. "It's nonsense that Germany must compete with Italy to have only four or three teams there."

From where Napoli stand, with a two-goal advantage going into the second leg of their last-16 match in London, it can look a bit peculiar that Italian football is about to lose one of its starting berths in Europe's principal competition.

Next season England, Spain and Germany will send three clubs each into the group phase and one each into the preliminary round. Serie A will get only two guaranteed spots and a third only via a play-off.

This is because of an erosion of performance in Europe by Italian clubs. But the way Napoli and AC Milan have responded is impressive, and the nation that tends to sneer loudest at declining Italian standards has been emphatically defeated in the latest duels.

Milan's 4-0 destruction of Arsenal looked like a throwback to the 1990s, when English clubs cowed in the face of Italian might. Napoli's 3-1 win over Chelsea had elements of that.

But English football has a tendency to puff up its own brilliance, so it may be a while before it acknowledges the many obituaries written in the British media about Serie A were premature.