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Napoli 0-4 AC Milan: Talking points as Serie A leaders consistency wavers

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial, Serie A 3 Apr 2023

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Napoli, the runaway leaders in the Serie A, suffered a proper thrashing at their Stadio Diego Armando Maradona at the hands of AC Milan on Sunday. Rafael Leao broke the deadlock for the visitors in the 17th minute and Brahim Diaz turned from provider to goalscorer to double their lead in the 25th. Leao struck again in the 59th, and the final score was the product of a marvelous solo run by Alexis Saelemaekers in the 67th.

The game by numbers

This was one of those matches where the stats hardly come close to telling the real story of what went on during the contest. Napoli dominated possession with the ball at their feet for 61% of the time and took six shots more than Milan (20-14). They attempted more passes (567-376) with a better completion rate (87-77%), and even took more corners (10-4). And with all that, they deserved no more than they got at the final whistle.

The home side’s domination in these aspects can be simply explained by the fact that they were the team chasing the result for more than three quarters of the game, having gone down relatively early. The painful truth for Luciano Spalletti and his team is, Milan had them exactly where they wanted them, for practically the entire game.

Napoli obviously missed the presence of Victor Osimhen upfront, but it’s questionable if even the sensational Nigerian striker would’ve been able to help here. It was in the middle of the park where the battle was lost for his teammates, as Sandro Tonali, Rade Krunic and Ismael Bennacer effectively closed the lanes towards their goal down and supported Brahim Diaz who opened them repeatedly in the other direction, with Stanislav Lobotka, Frank Anguissa and Piotr Zielinski unable to do anything to stop them. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was there, playing on the left attacking flank for Napoli as usual, but the Georgian winger was completely cut off for too much of the game – he simply didn’t have that powerful presence in the middle of the park to support him.

The starting Napoli midfield trio won a combined total of two tackles; their Milan counterparts won nine, and those were the numbers that had the greatest impact on the outcome of the match.

Late substitutions

Things obviously didn’t look good for Napoli throughout, but Spalletti for some reason waited until his team conceded the fourth goal to start making personnel changes. A minute after Saelemaekers scored his stunner, Matteo Politano, Lobotka and Zielinski made way for Hirving Lozano, Tanguy Ndombele and Eljif Elmas.

The three substitutes put in a decent effort, but the whole situation and the timing of their introduction into the contest poses one rather obvious question – what was it that Spalletti expected from them at 0-4 down? And why were not some of those changes made sooner?

Rafael Leao

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Leao is a very interesting player. A look at his physique and the way he moves suggests some kind of a mixture between Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe when he cuts inside from the left, but there’s definitely a bit of Mario Balotelli in there as well. There was a notable “Balotelli moment” early in the second half, when Leao pulled forward at a slight angle from the left, and with several options on his right – teammates in dangerous positions – he chose to let one fly with his weaker left foot from well over 25 yards. Needless to say, the unreasonable attempt trickled harmlessly far from the target.

At the age of 23, there’s reasonably hope that the Portugal international will grow into a smarter decision maker – it comes with experience after all. All the rest is already there – talent on the ball, pace, power, cool finishing. But he will want, for example, to study the way Diaz created his first goal, and take a leaf from that book in the future.

Table rankings

Even after this defeat, Napoli have a 16-point advantage over second-place Lazio and only some kind of a devine intervention could see them not win the Scudetto. Spalletti will obviously want to prepare his men for the clash with this same opponent in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the first leg of which is scheduled to take place next week at San Siro.

For Milan, on the other hand, these three points are extremely important for their efforts to qualify for the Champions League again. Unlike Napoli, they have no room whatsoever to relax between now and the end of the season. With 51 points on the board, they’ve overtaken city rivals Inter by one – it’s obviously close between them, followed by AS Roma with the same tally as Inter. Atalanta on 48 and Juventus on 44 cannot be ruled out yet either.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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