Needing just one point to secure their qualification to the Champions League knockout stages, Napoli were in pole position to advance.
Their final fixture was a tough one – away to Premier League leaders Liverpool – but if they had scored just once it would have meant that their opponent would have had to have won at least 3-1 in order to have progressed.
On the night, however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men put in a disappointing performance as the Reds won 1-0 at Anfield, a result that sent the Partenopei down into the Europa League.
With three Champions League trophies already under his belt, the former AC Milan, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich boss would surely like to add Europe’s second-tier cup competition to that list, but can Napoli do it?
The headline writers would surely like Napoli to face their former boss Maurizio Sarri in the final with Chelsea, an idea that Ancelotti himself likes the sound of.
“That would be a dream,” the Coach told Sky Italia after their domestic win over Cagliari last weekend. “But there are many steps in the way first.”
“We’ve proved that we’re competitive. The Liverpool defeat was a heavy blow, but the reaction had already come a long time before this evening. This is a team with good prospects and we are doing very well, but in my view can do far better.”
Napoli may have a long way to go yet but the draw gave them a great chance to advance to the last 16.
They were pulled out of the hat to face Swiss Super League side FC Zurich in a two-legged match to be played in February, the winnable nature of the clash duly acknowledged by their experienced boss.
“Zurich played well in the group to qualify, so we face them with great respect,” Ancelotti told reporters in Nyon. “That said, there’s also a great desire to go through.”
Such an attitude will serve the second-place Serie A team well, and Napoli supporters could see their team advance much further than they did under Sarri. The previous boss made no secret of prioritising the domestic campaign as Napoli came so close to beating Juventus to the Scudetto last season.
A year on, and the Neapolitans are eight points behind the still unbeaten Bianconeri in the league, and therefore with Ancelotti’s cup pedigree it seems like this is the right time to target a trophy.
After all, this is a team that have received so many plaudits for their style of play in recent seasons, yet they still have nothing tangible to show for it.
Their quality squad, along with a proven Coach could certainly make the difference this season, and at 6/1 with the best football betting sites, it’s well worth a bet on them being the team to be the winning side come May’s final at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan.
“The match at Anfield is hard to explain, we didn’t manage to do what we know we can,” admitted midfielder Allan to Sky Italia last week.
“We go out with our heads held high, aware that we gave everything, but that was our worst game in the group. We played for qualification until the last minute, and we’re disappointed because we wanted to go to the next round.
“…There’s still the Europa League and the Coppa Italia to play for. We’ll find a lot of good teams in the Europa League, but we can fight to the end. The dream is to be able to win something for our fans, who really deserve it.”
After earning 91 points in 38 Serie A matches last season, the Partenopei were the only side in the history of the league to ever to reach this number without winning the title, such is the strength of Juventus.
In a year when the Old Lady have added Cristiano Ronaldo to their already extremely well-fortified arsenal, winning the Europa League may well be their most realistic chance of landing some silverware, and for that reason Napoli are certainly worth backing.
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