ACQUA LETE CUP
SSC Napoli 1-2 Paris Saint-Germain
Last night’s 2-1 victory in a boisterous San Paulo within one of Europe’s most passionate cities is no easy feat. Whether it is a friendly or not, Paris Saint-Germain gave a real good account of themselves in the south of Italy by coming from a goal down to beat Rafa Benitez’s side. Although there are positives to take from a friendly organised as part of the Ezequiel Lavezzi deal, coach Laurent Blanc made a more than questionable decision that has majorly backfired.
Thiago Silva starting on Friday night away to Stade de Reims was a shock. You can paint it anyway you want but to start one of your most influential players – the captain nonetheless – in a competitive game after just three days of training following a gruelling World Cup was a major gamble. Blanc at the end of the 2-2 draw was irked by the questioning of his decision by reporters claiming that a player of Silva’s calibre has no qualms at coming back so soon and wanted to play. That is all well and good. But to then start him on foreign soil, three days later, is absolutely baffling.
The skipper picked up an injury to his thigh after an attempted back-heel early on in the first-half. Of course, this could have happened to anyone on the pitch but whether or not the lack of match fitness had a part to play, we can only speculate. Nevertheless, the fact that he was out on the pitch in the first place after such little preparation is frustrating. Put it like this, he has been back at the club for little under a week, and has been thrown straight into two games. Come on, where is the logic?
I am a huge admirer of Blanc, I think he gets unfair treatment at times from the media but he needs to take responsibility for this poor judgment call. The skipper may be out for a number of weeks now and that is a huge blow. Especially with David Luiz just arriving at the club. Silva’s presence alongside him would not only have settled the new man but also formed that partnership we hope will blossom for the coming years. That will have to wait for now as Marquinhos will step in after an ‘iffy’ pre-season. He needs to up his game now after a summer of uncertainty.
Speaking of Luiz, he made his debut at long last. He did relatively well, showing glimpses of his nature to bring the ball out from the back. He looked disciplined, although we did get caught on the counter-attack a number of times but that was just more to do with the way the game panned out, not defensive frailties. He limped off towards the end, more to do with cramp than anything else. He had a huge smile on his face which just remonstrates how infectious he is. He will be a hugely popular figure at the club, there is no doubt about it.
The likes of Maxwell, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye also got their first taste of football this season following the World Cup. All three did OK and it was good to see them back. Clement Chantome started the game too. It is yet another indication that he may have a future at the club after all. There is no doubt that he is a talented player and I thought he was unlucky to be shipped out on loan last season. The David Beckham deal seemed to push him further out of the picture last year but it is nice to see Blanc give him another opportunity. I would much rather have him in the squad than not at all.
Serge Aurier started at right-back and went about his business quietly. It was a more than steady performance from the Ivorian who was making his first start. There is much more to come from him in a position where we are better off with Gregory Van der Wiel looking to continue last season’s form.
One thing we did learn is that Naples loves Ezequiel Lavezzi. They adore him! The reception he received was beautiful to see from the passionate Neapolitans. The same could not be said for Edinson Cavani who was all of a sudden jeered to high heaven in the first-half. He seemed to gesture to the crowd which riled them up. As he headed off the pitch at half-time he was visibly rattled, shaking his head. Zlatan Ibrahimovic replaced him at half-time which could not have done the Uruguayan’s mood any favours.
As for the game itself, Gonzalo Higuain put the home side in front, tucking in a rebound off Nicolas Douchez’s save after a sprite counter attack involving the energetic Lorenzo Insigne who beat Marquinhos to the ball before firing at goal.
The equaliser came not too long after. Who got it? Ibra, of course! He too slotted home a rebound. The quality of our play increased when he come on as you would expect. He has started to drop deeper I have noticed but it is working to great effect.
The winner came from a player who was man of the match – in my opinion – against Reims, who has had a great pre-season and looks revitalised. Javier Pastore scored a wonderful solo goal after coming off the bench. He wriggled his way through, nutmegging Miguel Britos before firing the ball into the roof of the net.
That is how it ended with Zlatan lifting the Acqua Lete Cup. The group will be back in France by now as preparations turn to the first home game of the season this weekend against Bastia. Unfortunately, those plans will not include Thiago Silva.