Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Season ticket sales are down some 10,000 from last year at Napoli. It may be down to the harsh economic climate, the team’s poor finish to last season which saw them miss out the Champions League or perhaps the failure to bring in a star name to replace the departing Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Whatever the reasons for the sharp decrease in those attending matches at the San Paolo, those who haven't renewed are missing out on the treat of entertaining football, and more importantly a side capable of challenging Juventus for the title.
Wednesday saw Walter Mazzarri’s men entertain another team to have made a positive start to the campaign – Lazio – only to tear the visitors apart with a rapier-like attacking performance that brought Edinson Cavani a hat-trick in a 3-0 victory.
In fact, the striker could have bagged a fourth - or ‘a poker’ as it is known in Italy - if not for a penalty miss late on. But then nobody's perfect.
Diego Maradona probably came closest to perfection at the San Paolo, but Cavani is already closing in on the Argentine legend’s goal record of 115 for the Azzurri.
El Matador is now on 72 goals from 101 matches since arriving at the club in 2010, moving two ahead of two other former legends in Luis Vinicio and Faustinho Cané.
It was also Cavani’s sixth hat-trick, so no wonder owner Aurielo De Laurentiis added a €60 million buy-out clause to his star man’s current contract, which was signed after the first day of the new season – maybe that delay was another reason for failing season-ticket sales.
There had been plenty of speculation that Cavani would join Lavezzi in seeking a club playing in the Champions League, with Manchester City or possibly even PSG, where Lavezzi ended up, the likely destination.
However, there was plenty to persuade the Uruguayan that his future lay in the Bay area, which included not only a €4 million a year contract over the next five years, but also hero status almost on a par with Maradona from the adoring local support.
Napoli have been rewarded with their best start since De Laurentiis took control – 13 points from five games – and a run of seven consecutive victories at home in all competitions where, during which time those fans who have hung around have seen their team score 17 goals.
The win over Lazio was a boost following a lacklustre performance at Catania at the weekend, where despite the home side going down to ten men within the first two minutes, Mazzarri watched aghast as his star performances struggled to impose their numerical advantage and the match petered out to a goalless draw. Some harsh words were spoken on the trip back from Sicily but with his players refocused they were back to the brilliant best in what was dubbed “the match of the title pretenders”.
Juventus had already been held to a goalless draw at Fiorentina on Tuesday, so Napoli knew that three points would take level with the champions at the top of the table. Lazio, meanwhile, had fallen to a home defeat to Genoa over the weekend and were well aware they could not afford to slip further off the pace.
It had all the makings of an intriguing match-up, but the contest was over by the half-hour mark, with Lazio unable to cope with the movement of not only Cavani, but als Marek Hamsik who is beginning to thrive in the free role between the midfield and attack.
The Romans played their part in their own downfall by pushing their defence high up the pitch but not moving out in a line, enabling Cavani to peel off to the flanks and then speed into the open space – the second and third goals were both created in this manner.
The match got off to a potentially controversial start when Lazio’s only real threat Miroslav Klose punched the ball into the Napoli net from a corner. After initially running off to celebrate, the German thought better of it and owed up to his misdemeanour when surrounded by the irate home players.
A potentially damaging moment for Klose and the game in general was avoided, and from there on Cavani used his feet to set Juventus firmly in Napoli’s sights – and maybe help bring some of those missing thousands back to the San Paolo.
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