Napoli’s Italian head coach Carlo Ancelotti gives instructions next to Liverpool’s German manager … [+]
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Napoli was without a win in six games heading into its latest Champions League clash with Liverpool. And this disappointing run of results led to some extreme measures being taken by the club’s president, Aurelio De Laurentiis.
This season was seen as Napoli’s best chance in years to challenge perennial winners Juventus for the Serie A title, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side sits seventh in the table, 15 points off the defending champions.
Juventus is now managed by Maurizio Sarri, the head coach who took Napoli close to the title in 2017 and 2018, and though the Partenopei faithful were upset to see their former boss join their rivals, they saw his appointment in Turin as a chance to capitalise on a period of transition at a side who have won eight consecutive league titles.
But Napoli didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The club currently has just one win in seven from a run of fixtures which included plenty of games which it would have expected to win. The one which hurt the most was a defeat to Roma on November 2, after which De Laurentis stepped in.
RED BULL ARENA, SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – 2019/10/23: Napoli’s chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis stands on … [+]
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The president instructed the players to retreat to the training camp where they were to remain until things turned around.
“The squad will remain together until the Sunday before the international break,” De Laurentiis said after the loss in Rome.
“Ancelotti is a great coach and a fine gentleman. I have no reason to ask him to do a better job.
“The problem lies in teamwork and harmony. That depends on the players, who need to find motivation.”
Understandably, some of the players didn’t respond well to this and there were rumblings of a mutiny as players returned home rather than staying in the camp.
Brazilian midfielder Allan and the Neapolitan forward Lorenzo Insigne were fined €200,000 and €300,000 respectively for instigating the rebellion.
NAPLES, ITALY – APRIL 26: Marques Allan , Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli during an SSC Napoli Training … [+]
SSC NAPOLI via Getty Images
Ancelotti appeared to back his players: “It was the idea of the board to take this decision and we accept it. But if you ask me if I agree with it I would tell you no.”
The club tried to project a semblance of normality after the international break. A draw with Napoli didn’t change much, but the game against Liverpool was a chance to turn around the mentality of the club.
As Ancelotti said after the tie at Anfield: “This Napoli is the type of team which lose ourselves quickly, but we find ourselves again quickly too.”
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 27: Piotr Zielinski of Napoli and Joe Gomez of Liverpool in action … [+]
Liverpool and Napoli have met four times in just over a year in Europe’s premier competition, and though Napoli has the better record, it was ultimately knocked out by Liverpool last season.
The two sides finished level on points in last season’s group, and could not be separated by the head to head tiebreak criteria applied in the Champions League group stage. A higher number of goals scored in the group saw Liverpool progress and go on to win their sixth European Cup, while Napoli was dumped into the Europa League.
This time around, Napoli hung on for a draw at Anfield having won the meeting between the two at the San Paolo back in September, and progression to the round of 16 now looks more certain for Napoli than it does for Liverpool.
Ancelotti’s side plays bottom side Genk at home in its final game, while Liverpool faces a tricky trip to Salzburg where the other team to qualify from Group E will be decided.
Prior to the game, Ancelotti made light of the recent off-field problems.
“There is no club against squad battle, no internal warfare, there is a club and everyone trying to analyse why our performances have not been what we expected,” he said.
“That is above all in Serie A, because in the Champions League we are essentially on track.”
“President Aurelio De Laurentiis can’t come with us because he just made a long journey from Los Angeles, but he is close to the team and close to me.
“If anything, too close, as he calls me every day! As long as he’s paying the phone bill, that’s fine.”
NAPLES, ITALY – MAY 16: Carlo Ancelotti , Aurelio De Laurentiis during an SSC Napoli end of the … [+]
SSC NAPOLI via Getty Images
Ancelotti revealed that he had spoken to De Laurentiis after the game, while the president himself took to Twitter to pass on his summary of the 1-1 draw.
“With Ancelotti and this team, we earned two wins and a draw against the [European] champions Liverpool,” he said.
“Well done to the coach and to our players. Now everyone get their heads down and work hard, try to consider every game coming up as if it was against Liverpool.”
Despite this good result against the European champions, the fact remains that Napoli is still without a win in seven games.
A home game against Bologna at the weekend would usually have ben a routine league game with the club having picked up three points in this fixture for the past five seasons, but it will now, unnecessarily, be seen as a big game.
The goalposts have moved for Napoli, and rather than a title challenge, it is merely looking to save some face and qualify for next season’s Champions League, but it’s in that very competition this season that the road to recovery may have begun.