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A real exploit will be needed

Napoli 2-0 Nice

August 16, 2017

A real exploit will be needed

A blunt defeat (2-0), two red cards which were equally so: the Gym experienced a tricky evening in the San Paolo. Even though the task has become more complicated, there is still hope for next week with the return leg of the Champions League play-offs. Still hope, but a lot to ask.

Napoli promised hell for the Gym. Hell has probably never seemed so cruel and playful. With Napoli, everything is known and recognised, expected, but yet it remains so terribly difficult to break down. Their playmakers are so difficult to counter, their depth that is difficult to manage... This isn't to say that the Gym turned up to the San Paolo with their shorts round their ankles, waiting for an inevitable beating, or that they didn't cause problems in front of Pepe Reina's goal. St-Maximin's break and Lees-Melou's blocked shot – two in-form men – after 40 seconds of play, showed that an erupting volcano would seem less impressive. For all that, the lava can come to the edge of the water when it flows out too quickly. And for most of the time, the steam coming from these phenomena would stifle out the Aiglons.

To put a cover on Vesuvius, Lucien Favre pulled a 3-5-2 out of his hat, something he often worked on and employed last season. As for the opposition, Maurizio Sarri remained loyal to his 4-3-3, easily qualified as a 4-4-1+1 when in attack, with Marek Hamsik playing with complete freedom whilst the Partenopei kept the ball. Constantly looking to get in behind the Nice defence, who were playing fairly high up the pitch, the side who finished 3rd in Serie A last season pressed hard. The Aiglons were challenged, had to dig deep, and didn't come out unscathed. But thanks to the courage of Dante who stood strong in the eye of the storm (making a monstrous block to deny Mertens after 34 minutes) with his colleagues, they remained alive in an encounter, which, you shouldn't forget, is played over two legs.

The home side secured a series of corners and dangerous opportunities, which made the Red and Black supporters tremble, unfortunately they were forced to remain at home for the game.

Hamsik found Callejon who was on the verge of being offside, but the Spaniard's header flew over (8’), then was denied by Cardi in a chance that had become an almost recurring situation on 15 minutes (the vertical game). Before that, Napoli opened the score thanks to a deep ball from Insigne, onto which Mertens accelerated and beat the on-rushing Cardinale and finished the job with talent, before having his name chanted 14 times by the Neapolitan crowd (1-0 13’). The Belgian international tried his luck with a scissor-kick which went wide (16’), then set-up a chance in the box but could only find Cardi (21’), proof of his talent and his stature... Once the first 30 minutes had passed, the Aiglons put their foot on the ball to catch their breath. A successful gamble. They made their hosts run and, as the hosts like to dominate games, they found themselves in difficulty. Nice failed to make the most of it though. From a smart move, Lees-Melou played in Jallet (starting on the right wing). The former-Parisian cut back on himself, found Koziello on the edge of the box, but the midfielder pulled his shot wide (35’).

After this huge chance, St-Maximin, who proved quickly that he feared nothing and was a constant danger, drove forward, beat two or three opponents, but missed the target (39’). This series of chances was proof of the intensity of the encounter. A shot from Insigne was magnificently turned away by Cardi (42’) to complete the list.

A wretched 80th minute

The very same Insigne hit the post upon his return from the dressing rooms, as he got on the end of a short from Mertens (once again) pushed away by Cardinale (50'). Napoli put the Azuréens back under pressure, Callejon set-up Mertens who opened up his foot just too much in the box (61'). Souquet crashed a header against his own bar as he tried to save his side (66'), Cardi smothered a magnificent strike from Insigne (67'), but the Gym ended up cracking after a one-two from the Mertens-Insigne duo lead to Jallet committing a foul in his own box. Jorginho converted from the spot (2-0 70') and, from then on, we could feel the earth tremble beneath our feet, Napoli attempted to put the boot in to put the tie to bed ahead of the second leg.

Offensively, Nice created two chances in the second period: two off-target strikes from Plea, including a second, with 15 minutes to go, followed by a run from Souquet and a slightly questionable interception in their own box. But the main thing was not to open the floodgates. Cardi dealt, once again, with a strike from Insigne (77'). They would need to, face up to the fervour of the locals and a rather officious referee who made a difficult mission almost impossible.

In the 80th minute, Koziello was given a red card following a dangerous tackle in the centre-circle. This same action lead to a second yellow for Plea, who was sent off at the same time as the number 26. Lucien Favre immediately brought on Walter to limit the damages.

The damages were finally limited, the score wouldn't change, thanks to a huge miss from Milik (87'). But this 1st leg now denies the Gym of two key elements for the 2nd leg and leaves them trailing by two.

Next Tuesday, a monstrous performance will be required to secure a place in the Queen of European competitions. But what's at stake is definitely worth it.

And this time, it will be the Aiglons that will be playing with 12...

C.D.

In Naples, at the San Paolo Stadium

Napoli 2-0 OGC Nice (1-0 half-time)

1st leg Champions League play-offs, 16/08/2017

49 324 spectators

Referee: Szymon Marciniak

Goals: Mertens (13'), Jorginho (70') for Napoli;

Bookings: Plea (65', 80') for Nice

Red Card: Koziello (80') and Plea (80') for Nice

Napoli: Reina - Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam - Allan (Rog 85'), Jorginho, Hamsik (cap) (Zielinski 59') - Callejon, Mertens (Milik 75'), Insigne.

OGC Nice: Cardinale - Souquet, Dante (cap), Le Marchand - Jallet (Burenr 94'), Lees-Melou, Seri,