x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Napoli's win is priceless

Champions League victory over Manchester City shows clubs need not 'overspend' to perform in European competitions.

When Napoli’s Edinson Cavani scores a goal, he usually follows it up with another, like he did against City.
When Napoli’s Edinson Cavani scores a goal, he usually follows it up with another, like he did against City.

Aurelio De Laurentiis, the shoot-from-the-hip president of Napoli, could not resist a dig at Manchester City's recent spending as he celebrated a 2-1 victory over the English side at the San Paolo Stadium.

"It just goes to show," said De Laurentiis, "that you don't have to overspend to succeed. You can progress by trying to balance the books."

De Laurentiis, also known as a film producer, likes being an opinionated voice at the top table of European football. Executives from Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid have been no more vocal about how Uefa should run itself than De Laurentiis has since Napoli entered club football's premier tournament for the first time in 20 years.

After Tuesday's win over City, which puts Napoli second in Group A, it is likely he will be staying in that sort of exalted company at least into March.

At a vibrant San Paolo, Napoli looked more like they belonged in the top 16 teams in Europe than did City, who lord it over the English Premier League and have set records for financial losses.

Some credit for Napoli's improved prospects must go to Walter Mazzarri, the coach, whose use of a back three and wing-backs is unorthodox.

Against City, the wings, Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena, were full of run, and the back three worked to snuff out the threat, above all, of Edin Dzeko, City's centre-forward.

At half time, Mazzarri said he told Maggio to push further up on Aleksandar Kolarov, the City left-back. From there, Mazzarri's excellent front three - Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani - gained in menace.

Cavani scored twice, confirming his capacity to rise to big occasions and his preference for collecting his goals in packages of more than one at a time. But his performance by no means overshadowed the lively Lavezzi's. The Argentine tortured City time and again.

Napoli, who play prospectless Villarreal next, need only to match the result City obtain from their remaining game against Bayern in the final round of group games to guarantee a place in the knockouts.

But De Laurentiis cannot yet make himself too comfortable at the top table.

At the moment, Napoli, seventh in Serie A, are nothing like City in the Premier League.

The secret to becoming a true European heavyweight is to assert your strength twice a week.