When Carlo Ancelotti was presented as Napoli coach a few months ago, he said he hoped this season would be remembered as the year he returned to Italian soccer.
While it took Ancelotti some time to get Napoli playing the way he wants, the Partenopei put on their most impressive performance of the season with a last-gasp 1-0 victory over Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Napoli didn’t allow Liverpool — a finalist last season — a single shot on target.
“More and more, this is becoming Ancelotti’s Napoli. He’s changed a lot and we’re following him,” said Lorenzo Insigne, who scored in the 90th minute.
This week, all four Italian clubs posted impressive wins in the Champions League.
Roma, last season’s surprise semifinalist, routed Viktoria Plzen 5-0 behind a hat trick from Edin Dzeko; Paulo Dybala also scored three as Juventus beat Young Boys 3-0; and Inter Milan came back from a goal down to win 2-1 at PSV Eindhoven.
“I’m pleased that all of the other Italian clubs are doing well,” Ancelotti said. “Things are changing in the European hierarchy and that’s good for our game.”
It’s the first time since 2005 that four Italian clubs won on a single Champions League match day — a two-day span — since Juventus, Udinese, AC Milan and Inter achieved the feat in 2005. That was also the year when an Ancelotti-coached Milan was beaten in the final by Liverpool.
Napoli was playing in the third division 13 years ago.
The southern squad had been declared bankrupt a year earlier and was reformed under the ownership of film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, who remains Napoli’s president.
Ancelotti also coached Milan to two Champions League titles, plus one more with Real Madrid. He also coached Juventus, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich before replacing the popular Maurizio Sarri — who left for Chelsea — at Napoli.
De Laurentiis remains unpopular among Napoli supporters for letting Sarri leave and was quick to laud Ancelotti after the victory over Liverpool.
“A great victory against a great squad,” De Laurentiis tweeted. “Ancelotti is worthy of his reputation.”
Ancelotti made a surprise move by starting Nikola Maksimovic, who is normally a central defender, at right back in a 4-4-2 formation.
The move paid off with Maksimovic able to help out defending Liverpool’s dangerous trio of strikers — Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
With the game still scoreless, Ancelotti brought on forwards Simone Verdi and Dries Mertens in the 68th minute — sparking a fresh assault on the Liverpool goal.
Mertens quickly volleyed off of the crossbar and Liverpool’s defense seemed exhausted by the time Insigne ran on to Jose Callejon’s cross for the winner.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp had brought on Daniel Sturridge, the striker who scored a late equalizer against Chelsea on Saturday, only in the 88th despite calls for him to play more.
“It was my fault for sure, but I need at least one night to watch the game again to know exactly what was the fault,” Klopp said. “But it looked not like it should have looked.”
Insigne also scored a free kick against Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund in his Champions League debut five years ago and he could have scored more on Wednesday if not for a solid performance from goalkeeper Alisson.
“It’s always a bad sign if you have to say your goalkeeper was your best player, but that was obvious tonight,” Klopp said. “Then in the last minute, we made another tactical mistake and that’s the problem.”
The victory vaulted Napoli to the top of Group C with four points, one ahead of Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain. Red Star Belgrade is last with one point.
“This win can give us a lot of strength, it could be a turning point from a mental point of view,” Ancelotti said. “We’ve banged our fist on the table and made it understood that Napoli will also be in the fight for knockout rounds.”
Source: The Associated Press