In spite of having control for most of the match, Napoli succumbed to a surprising defeat to Empoli. The result leaves Luciano Spalletti’s side further cut off from the first places in Serie A.
Manager Luciano Spalletti, once again, found himself having to improvise a good deal of the team’s line-up. Amir Rrahmani and Juan Jesus were the team’s central defense pairing. Dries Mertens started as the lone striker. Most surprisingly, perhaps, Adam Ounas played centrally, behind the striker.
Empoli’s Aurelio Andreazzolo opted for a 4-3-1-2 formation. It highlighted the team’s hard work and resilience. These qualities have helped Empoli be one of the surprise packages of the season.
Napoli was effective in dominating possession and creating goal-scoring chances. Many of the shots, however, were from range. Dries Mertens, in spite of his best efforts, often looked isolated behind enemy lines.
Some of Spalletti’s tactical plans were foiled early on when Polish midfielder Piotr Zielinski was forced out with an injury. He was replaced by Lorenzo Insigne who is also recuperating from an injury.
Napoli’s dominance proved futile. In the 70th minute, former AC Milan striker, Patrick Cutrone, put Empoli ahead in spite of the game’s natural flow, and despite Spalletti recently having sent on Diego Deemo, Andre-Frank Anguissa, and Andrea Petagna.
The Partenopei’s desperate attacks could not be converted into an equalizer. Napoli was succesful in creating chances, keeping possession, and, generally, in following Spaletti’s tactical plan. They were, however, ineffective in front of goal.
It’s a painful defeat, but also a strong lesson. Napoli is not out of the Scudetto challenge. But, it will not be smooth sailing either. Injuries, poor form, surprising goals will all be challenges with which Spalletti and the club will need to deal with well.