The win over Napoli was arguably the best team performance in a couple of seasons, maybe even back to the 2017 cup final win over Chelsea. A dynamic attack with Lacazette and Aubameyang supported by an ‘in the mood’ Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey left the Italian defence bewildered and stretched.
2 – 0 was a fair reflection of the game; we should have scored more in the second half but so too Napoli late in the opening 45 minutes. In all honesty, a two-goal advantage with a clean sheet is better for us than 3 – 1. I do fancy our chances of scoring away from home although stopping Napoli scoring is another matter.
We’ll have a strong defence on show; Sokratis managed to avoid a yellow card and thus a suspension for the second leg. It’s a matter of fitness now for both he and Thursday night’s defensive star, Laurent Koscielny, with the trip to Watford on Monday the potential pitfall. That said, Petr Cech deserves credit for a strong performance as well.
Ramsey’s goal was a sublime example of the team play the XI is capable of. Napoli were undone by an unstoppable interchange of passing involving Lacazette, Maitland-Niles and Özil, all threaded together by Ramsey before he finished the move he started with an interception.
The second from Torreira benefited from the good fortune the performance deserved. Deflected in, UEFA calls an own goal for Koulibaly apparently. That’s harsh on the defender; in old money, it was a deflection and god knows what the suits are trying to achieve with that kind of decision.
It was the night we hoped for when Atletico Madrid pitched up in last season’s semi-final. This time, let’s hope we can get the second leg right.
Cut and Thrust
Unai Emery’s biggest decision is team selection over the next two games. He got it horribly wrong at Everton, not just the personnel but the conservative tactics as well. We’re in a position in the Premier League where we must win at Watford to stay in the race for fourth as well as knowing the task in Naples.
Naturally enough, there were immediate calls to play the same line-up in every game. If only it were that simple. Thursday was the seventh time the quartet of Ramsey, Özil, Lacazette and Aubameyang played together; it was the seventh win.
There are various reasons why they haven’t featured but on Thursday, Napoli dominated possession and we enjoyed the thrust of the counter-attack. The reality of most of our games is those roles are reversed. It begs the question whether we should alter our gameplan to force the opposition to take more control of the ball.
We’re getting into the home and away form conundrum. Part of the problem is the modern footballer isn’t physically capable of playing every game; the pace of the game is too demanding. Looking at the quartet of players mentioned, the only one who has suffered a major injury or illness so far this season is Lacazette. Little wonder we don’t field the best XI each time.
That is only part of the problem. Monday will, I’m sure, see Watford look to bully us. There’s a sense that we’re vulnerable to that approach in away games. Mustafi returns to the side and offers a renewed vulnerability on the right. Koscielny will be looking to Monreal, who looked out of sorts on Thursday, to pick up the pace once again.
A positive will be the return of Torreira and Xhaka. The midfield was bitier and snappier with the Uruguayan on Thursday and Xhaka will improve that as well. Possession has got to be better in domestic games, as well as the distribution. We’ve been ponderous at best and desperately need to move the ball faster. That mentality was evident on Thursday night and must be repeated at Vicarage Road.
So, there’s plenty of reasons to look forward to Watford with renewed confidence. Whether that is misplaced is another matter.