Napoli 0-0 Milan: Donado-napoli Takes Its First Step, Rossoneri Shut Out (Serie A Matchday 29)

Napoli's coach Roberto Donadoni (L) shouts orders at his team beside AC Milan's David Beckham during their Italian Serie A soccer match at the San Paolo stadium in Naples, March 22, 2009. (REUTERS)

In pure Neapolitan style, Azzurri supporters greeted the San Paolo appearance of their new manager with the following banner: “Donadoni, sbruoglia sta matassa“. That’s dialect for “Donadoni, clear this mess up”.

Well… mission accomplished? Not quite, but Napoli are on the right path, and the way in which Donadoni achieved this 0-0 draw shows some reassuring signs of improvement. If you’re not convinced, a clean sheet against a team which had scored in 29 consecutive matches (Milan‘s last goal-less fixture was in October against Cagliari) speaks fairly clearly; the Azzurri’s stellar pre-Winter performances are still very far away, but at least on the motivational side Donadoni’s done his job.

And to be perfectly honest, Napoli had indeed scored a valid goal (Marek Hamsik) which really shouldn’t have been called off.

Serie A 2008-09 - Napoli vs. Milan

Serie A 2008-09 - Day 29 - Napoli 0-0 Milan

Tactically, Grava and Mannini on the wings for a Reja-patented five-men midfield, Zalayeta (instead of Denis) to partner up with Lavezzi: these were Donadoni’s choices as he returned to face the team which made him a great player. Ancelotti replied with the usual Xmas Tree formation, Seedorf as a second striker behind Inzaghi and Pato. Kaká sat this one out together with Ronaldinho, although both players were available on the bench if needed.

At the onset, Milan took control of the match, but it was mostly a matter of ball possession, which was useful to break down Napoli’s pressuring tactics. Donadoni’s touch on the team was obvious, with Lavezzi moving back all the way midfield to disturb Pirlo; Blasi following Seedorf very closely while in defence, a big “mark me” sign was stuck on Inzaghi’s back, a task which was more diligently undertaken by Contini. On the other end, Pato was making the difference for the Rossoneri, finding space and anticipating the plays (especially as he draw the man-marking Napoli defenders onto him, opening up space elsewhere). However, Pato by himself was not enough to cause any danger.

Roberto Donadoni (R) arrives for his first match as new coach of Napoli prior his team's Italian Serie A football match against AC Milan on March 22, 2009 at San Paolo Stadium in Naples. The match ended in a 0-0 draw. (Getty Images)

Napoli were cautious and did not let their guard down; they waited patiently for the right moment to go deep into the Rossoneri lines. It almost looked like the Azzurri were not aware of their own strength because when they decided to make a break for it, they pushed Milan to the ropes. Lavezzi seemed reborn today in comparison with his last few games: the Argentine forward create space for himself, crossed the ball, found the shots. In the 37th minute, Napoli finally managed to break the deadlock (short-range Hamsik redirect from a headed corner by Zalayeta), but the goal was disallowed for offside. Replays showed that Pirlo kept the Slovakian midfielder on.

This served as an alarm bell for Milan, who slowed down the pace and blocked their opponent’s plays at the centre line. Physically generous players like Mathieu Flamini started to make the difference here, giving it their best and going after every ball. The same applies to Daniele Mannini on the other end, who was very energetic in his return from suspension and was a fantastic anchor both in defence and in attack (he was voted man of the match).

Marek Hamsik's onside goal for Napoli

Milan understood that in order to come out of there with some points, they needed to go for it, just like Napoli: picking up the pace and putting a fierce pressure on ball and men. But Pato was well-covered and could not get rid of his opponents. Ancelotti asked for a quicker pace which neither Seedorf nor Kaká (on for the Dutch midfielder in minute 57) could make a reality, and once it became obvious that even Inzaghi couldn’t do miracles today, he was replaced by Ronaldinho. The newly formed Kaká-Ronnie-Pato trio could have done more, but the newcomers did not have quick legs this evening; if anything, it was Napoli who were hinting at a goal. In the 64th minute, Hamsik gave Zalayeta a ball that just needed to be eased into the net; the Uruguayan was in front of an empty net, but sent the ball out to the side… unbelievable.

It was the unprejudiced Napoli that Donadoni wanted: a team which dictated the pace of the game. All Milan could do was to slow them down, but the Azzurri were inspired and Zalayeta missed another chance to score, stopped twice by Dida shortly after Senderos came onto the pitch for Favalli. Napoli were strong and took advantage of Milan’s tiresome movements, without ideas or physical strength. Milan’s “Ka-Pa-Ro” attacking trio was not very convincing tonight and offset by the watchful Azzurri defence. Other than that, there was just enough time to see a Beckham free-kick parried by Navarro. The Englishman -who is still in Capello’s national team list- was once again one of the best players on the pitch.

Napoli's Marek Hamsik (R) argues with AC Milan's Ronaldinho during their Italian Serie A soccer match at the San Paolo stadium in Naples, March 22, 2009. (REUTERS)


 S.S.C. Napoli
[Match Highlights]
 AC Milan
GOALSCORERS: 20′ Maggio (N), 23′ Di Vaio (B).
NAPOLI (3-5-2): Navarro – Santacroce, P.Cannavaro, Contini – Grava, Pazienza, Blasi, Hamsik, Mannini – Zalayeta (91’ Bogliacino), Lavezzi (bench: Bucci, Montervino, Datolo, Amodio, Russotto, Denis). Coach: Donadoni.
MILAN (4-3-1-2): Dida – Zambrotta, Maldini, Favalli (72’ Senderos), Jankulovski – Beckham, Pirlo, Flamini – Seedorf (57’ Kaká) – F.Inzaghi (63’ Ronaldinho), Pato (bench: Kalac, Antonini, Darmian, Shevchenko). Coach: Ancelotti.


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