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No exploits for the Gym

Nice 0-2 Napoli

August 22, 2017

No exploits for the Gym

The Gym was unable to turn the tie around against Napoli in the second leg of the Champions League play-offs (0-2). It will now take part in the Europa League during the 2017/18 campaign.

A ball filled with stars in the centre-circle before kick-off, some sumptuous music, a supercharged set of fans… In a Champions League atmosphere, the risk was clear for all: Go out all guns blazing and being caught out at the back. The Neapolitan visitors, their talent, their well-oiled 4-3-3 and their individual players were tasked with denying the Gym this opportunity. Like last week, the Partenopei created a plethora of opportunities. Like last week, they would struggle to break down to begin with, before causing the Nice barrier to eventually crumble under the pressure.

Set-up in a 4-2-3-1 at kick-off, with Walter on the right, Tameze alongside Seri, St-Maximin on the left and Sneijder supporting Balotelli, Lucien Favre’s squad struggled to put their opposition under pressure. A side who, when losing the ball (which they use so marvellously - thanks to, amongst others, a superb triangle in the middle - only had one worry, to show all schools of football: getting ten men behind the ball to defend. The Niçois struggled to get out of the first wave of pressing, and it was soon clear that the only way out was to be down the left-hand side. A wing on which Allan St-Maximin once again was able to show his pace and power in his duals, causing problems for the opposition as soon as he found space.

In attacking terms, only a strike from Sneijder which was caught by Reina (5’) troubled Sarri’s side. On the other hand, they posed a constant danger for the home side’s net. After recovering the ball high up the pitch, Mertens was faced with Cardi’, he tried to beat the keeper at the near post but could only find the arms of the on-form keeper (15’). Then Koulibaly just missed from a corner from 6 metres out (20’), Mertens shot but found Dante (21’), Insigne took on Souquet before shooting, but once again, could only find the Gym’s captain (27’), Mertens (once again) knocked it just wide after a cross from Ghoulam (37’), Callejon missed the target (45+1’)…

In short, Napoli put on the pressure, but often lacked the precision in the final pass. And the Red and Blacks went in at half-time keeping the belief that they could turn the game around. Their mission was helped enormously by a Dante – Le Marchand duo who were concentrated and agressive.

The barrier fell

But after Napoli’s insistence, they were able to put a premature end to any suspense. Coming out of the middle, Marek Hamsik, for whom freedom and accuracy are a football hymn, went out left and found Callejon. The Spaniard only had to tap-in to earn the lead for his side. Something he did without any mistake, capping off a move that Mario Balotelli was forced to observe from the touchline, after the fourth official prevented him from retaking the field (0-1, 48'). Shortly after, Mertens hit the post and Le Marchand couldn’t get his header on target after some smart work from St-Maximin on the left (55'). Nice tried to push on for 10 minutes, but the side who finished 3rd in Série A last season, were clearly a level above the rest. Disciplined, technical, calm, they barely left crumbs behind them. Too little on offer for the Red and Blacks to continue with their Champions League adventure.

Cardi pulled off two incredible saves from Insigne (64', 66'), Lucien Favre sent on Lees-Melou (who hit the bar in the dying stages, when the game was as good as over) to replace Tameze and brought Walter further back… but nothing came of it. Not even the youthful Ganago who, just after his arrival onto the pitch, dummied in the Napoli box, opened up the goal in front of him, but only found the arms of Reina (83').

The blue mountain was just a bit too tall. Insigne made it, once and for all, inaccessible after 89 minutes, opening up his foot (2-0). It shows the path they will need to follow in order to grow.

In September, the Aiglons will begin in the group stage of the Europa League for the second consecutive season. With the ambition of making the most of their experiences from last season and this summer to begin an amazing adventure.

Nice, Allianz Riviera,
OGC Nice 0-2 SSC Napoli (0-0 at half-time)

2nd leg, Champions League play-offs - 22/08/2017

32 103 spectators

Referee: Damir Skomina

Goals: Callejon (48'), Insigne (89') for Napoli.

Bookings: Seri (8'), Lees-Melou (82') for Nice ; Koulibaly (84') for Napoli.

Red cards : 

OGC Nice : Cardinale - Souquet, Dante (cap), Le Marchand, Jallet - Seri, Tameze (Lees-Melou 66') - Walter (Marcel 79'), Sneijder, St-Maximin, Balotelli (Ganago 77').

SSC Napoli : Reina - Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam - Allan (Rog 71'), Jorginho (Diawara 85'), Hamsik (cap) (Zielinski 63') - Callejon, Mertens, Insigne.