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Napoli Champions League fate out of their hands

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By Charles Ducksbury

Thursday 10 May 2012

After crashing to defeat in Bologna, Napoli now know that Champions League qualification is out of their hands. The southerners must hope that both Udinese and Lazio drop points in their games and that they themselves can beat Siena in the final round of fixtures to secure another year in Europe’s premier competition.

Walter Mazzarri has been heavily criticised for the defeat in Bologna after Napoli. Despite being in the final Champions League place going into the weekend's fixtures, perhaps the coach is guilty of being over-zealous with his attacking intent. Famed for their counter-attacking under Mazzarri, the pressure of the occasion seemed too much for the Neapolitans. After conceding an early goal through former West Ham star Diamanti, Napoli seemed disorganised and after throwing caution to the wind early in the second half, eventually lost the game 2-0, almost certainly ending hopes of finishing in third place.

Mazzarri is the longest serving coach in Serie A, (sitting on the Napoli bench for two and a half years) and the success he has brought the southern giants during his tenure is only bettered by that achieved during the Maradona era in the late eighties. Champions League qualification in his first full season, followed by a fantastic run in the competition the following season, beating the likes of Manchester City and Villarreal and holding Bayern Munich. Only a superb comeback by Chelsea denied Napoli a place in the quarter finals, and not forgetting that they have a Coppa Italia final against Juventus to come, meaning the season could yet end in silverware.

To label the Livorno born tactician one dimensional (as many have over recent days) is perhaps a little harsh considering the success he’s brought. If Mazzarri changed his so far successful ways and then failed many would question his sanity. Mazzarri enjoys playing with three centre-backs and two very attacking wing-backs. If for example he changed to a flat back four, how long would it take for the players to adapt to this tactic after playing for almost three years with a three? Although his gung-ho approach in Bologna has possibly cost Napoli a top three place, he deserves another opportunity to lead the southerners to glory. Despite perhaps ending the league campaign on a low note, there is plenty for the fans to be excited about.

Although it’s seeming likely that Ezequiel Lavezzi is heading north to join Inter Milan this summer, youngster Eduardo Vargas, signed last summer from Chile has had a year to adapt to Italian football and many at the club believe next season he will be ready to be unleashed on Serie A. Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis has already insisted he will again open his chequebook in the next transfer market, so combining new signings with players like Cavani, Hamsik, Inler and the aforementioned Vargas, it could again be an exciting season for the azzurri.

For now though, the future can wait. Mazzarri is focused only on the Siena game. Speaking to the media, he said ‘We have to beat Siena with all of our might and are working hard on that. After that, we can only hope. I am convinced Catania will play a great game against Udinese, just as Bologna did with us.’

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