Club Focus - Napoli - Ultra violence pushes calcio into the background again, as Napoli labour against understrength Liverpool
Napoli's goalless stalemate against Liverpool in the Europa League at the Stadio San Paolo on Thursday night was, unfortunately, secondary news. Earlier in the day, before kick-off, the sad news emerged that certain Napoli supporters had stabbed some visiting Liverpool fans.
A father, mother and son were all hospitalised with knife wounds as a result of some Neapolitan fans racing around the city on mopeds, looking to cause grief on the day of their biggest European match in years. Once again, Italian football has been plunged into crisis talks about hooligans, and this time it centres around Napoli.
The match almost never went ahead. After Sunday's match with Catania, Napoli officials found the San Paolo pitch had been vandalised by their own supporters. Around 50 holes were discovered, mainly in the two goal areas, and it was revealed that a group of locals had broken in overnight to try and sabotage the upcoming Liverpool tie. It is thought that an increase in ticket prices caused the reckless vandalism, but unfortunately it didn't even turn out to be the worst thing that Napoli fans did in that week, after the heinous stabbings.
The match itself was somewhat of a non-event, with the off-field dramas potentially playing into the minds of both sides. Liverpool completely revamped their under-performing team, meaning the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were left at home. Walter Mazzarri, conversely, named Napoli's strongest eleven, but they still couldn't find a way through the makeshift Premier League side.
Morgan De Sanctis was in goal as usual, with Paolo Cannavaro marshalling the defence alongside Hugo Campagnaro and Salvatore Aronica, who was preferred to Gianluca Grava. Christian Maggio, Michele Pazienza, Walter Gargano and ex-Liverpool winger Andrea Dossena made up the midfield. Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani were the attacking partnership, but failed to pose much of a problem to their opponents. The best – and arguably only – chance of the match came when a deflected Hamsik shot was cleared off the line.
The 0-0 draw means Liverpool remain top of the Europa League's Group K, with Napoli sitting second, on goal difference. They have three points, the same as FC Utrecht, whilst Liverpool have five. Steaua Bucharest are bottom with just two points.
After the match, Mazzarri complained that Liverpool came to Italy to play for just a point. He said: “We were facing a side that sat back and waited for us to come forward. They were organised and looking for a draw. We gave it a go, and must appreciate what we did. We must recognise the worth of other teams – we aren't the only ones on the pitch.”
Lavezzi, Napoli's Argentine striker, was unable to break down Liverpool, but has been speaking out in the last week about his desire to play for a top Spanish club at some point in his career. He claimed: “My main objective for the future is just to improve day by day, to fight for goals and to try and win something important. I don't know if that is with Napoli or elsewhere."
“It is normal that I dream of playing for a top team fighting for major trophies. But today I'm at Napoli and only thinking about the good of the club. If I play away from Naples one day, I would love to play in Spain. I believe I have the characteristics to do well in La Liga."
It has been a disappointing week for the Partenopei on the pitch, drawing with both Catania and an under-strength Liverpool side, although the behaviour of a handful of hooligans in the city has undermined Mazzarri's team. At the weekend, Napoli have an eagerly awaited clash with Milan in Serie A. The Rossoneri are in stuttering form, but sit top of the league. The Vesuviani will have to be at their best to take anything away from them.