Football Features

Napoli 2-2 Atalanta: Five things learned as VAR causes more arguments in Serie A

By Harry Edwards

Published: 20:18, 30 October 2019

Napoli and Atalanta played out an exciting 2-2 draw on Wednesday evening, as Serie A continued.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men twice took the lead through Nikola Maksimovic and Arkadiusz Milik but were pegged back twice with goals from Remu Freuler and Josip Ilicic.

But what did we learn from the game?

1. Napoli’s problems continue

It’s fair to say Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti was not happy with his side after their performance at the weekend. The Partenopei drew 1-1 with SPAL at the weekend, missing out on the opportunity to close the gap to the top three clubs.

“We put in the performance and I have few things to complain about,” he said after the draw.

But he was left frustrated as he watched his side twice surrender a lead to drop points for the fourth time in six games. Things had looked to be going so well for I Partenopei who had overcome an early injury to Allan to compose themselves and control the game.

Even when Freuler drew the away side level, Napoli’s heads did not drop and they looked set to be rewarded with a well-earned victory after Arkadiusz Milik’s goal. But then came the sting.

Having had a penalty appeal turned down, Napoli’s players failed to recuperate and allowed their opponents to race up the pitch and equalise once more, this time through Josip Ilicic.

Cue meltdown, as the Napoli players and staff were incensed with the decision, leading to Ancelotti’s dismissal from pitchside. After that incident Atalanta looked the more likely of the two sides to win, but Napoli managed to calm down eventually albeit to secure the draw.

2. Pierluigi Gollini shows his worth

Wednesday’s match was very much about the performances of the two goalkeepers.

Pierluigi Gollini and Alex Meret will both be aiming to challenge Gianluigi Donnarumma for Italian’s no.1 jersey for years to come, but they experienced different nights at the Stadio San Paolo.

Gollini in the Atalanta goal had a simply wonderful game, keeping his side in it at times. It started early, with the 24-year-old having to make two saves in the opening minutes, first denying Arkadiusz Milik from close-range before stopping Hirving Lozano one-on-one.

He then produced another cracking save to deny Jose Callejon after the Spaniard had been played in on goal by a defence-splitting pass from Lorenzo Insigne. In total, Gollini made X saves against Napoli, though he was unable to keep a clean sheet yet again and fingers may be pointed at him for his part in conceding the second.

At the other end, Meret will be wanting to forget his night as he played a pretty big role in Atalanta’s equaliser. After controlling most of the first half, Napoli started to allow Atalanta to get a hold on the game, and the away side pushed forward with intent.

A nice team move ended with Remo Freuler finding himself with the ball inside the Napoli area, but his shot wasn’t the best and should have been saved. But Meret allowed the ball to squirm through his legs and into the net, wiping out Napoli’s advantage.

3. Hirving Lozano fails to inspire again

In a move that surprised some, Hirving Lozano started Wednesday’s game ahead of Dries Mertens.

Prior to the game, the Mexican had featured in 13 games across all competitions since his move from PSV Eindhoven. But he had managed just one goal, and was yet to manage an assist. In contrast, Mertens has scored seven and recorded two assists, so the decision to drop Napoli’s second-highest goalscorer in history for Lozano was a risk.

Unfortunately for the Mexican, and Carlo Ancelotti, it was a risk that didn’t pay off.

The 24-year-old managed just one shot on goal and one chance created in his 60 minutes on the pitch, failing to complete a single take-on. He was taken off moments before the hour mark and replaced by Mertens, whose arrival took Napoli’s performance to another level.

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4. Atalanta remind everyone of their capabilities

Those who have just been following the Champions League this season will no doubt have formed certain opinions about Atalanta. The Italian side have been overwhelmed in their debut campaign, losing their opening three games, scoring two and conceding 11.

But La Dea are a completely different side in Serie A and they proved why yet again, despite only managing a draw against Napoli.

Atalanta went into the tricky game third in Serie A, boasting the best attack in Italy, and chasing the possibility to drawing level with second-placed Juventus. And they had to rely on it as their defence, once again, gave them a harder task than necessary.

Twice, Atalanta showed the fight to come from behind in a fiery game, living off scraps at times as Napoli had the better opportunities. The first was slightly fortunate with Meret’s error, but came at the end of a lovely passage of play that merited the goal. And the second, a swift counter, capitalising on Napoli’s lapse in concentration with their penalty appeals.

Although Atalanta did miss the opportunity to put pressure on Juventus, the performance provided many positives.

5. VAR causes more arguments

Football fans must be starting to get bored with complaining about VAR, but it will be the topic of conversation once again following Napoli’s draw with Atalanta.

With Napoli leading 2-1 and the clock ticking down, Ancelotti’s men were chasing a third to seal the win. Once such opportunity saw the ball crossed into the box towards Fernando Llorente. But the Spaniard was unable to get a head on the ball, being challenged by Simon Kjaer.

While Napoli were protesting, Atalanta went up the other end and equalised through Ilicic, causing the home side frustration. There was still a lifeline for Napoli, however, with VAR certain to rule in their favour. Replays showed Kjaer performing a tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Japan at the Rugby World Cup.

But nothing was given, Atalanta’s goal stood and Napoli’s reaction saw Ancelotti sent off and Lorenzo Insigne booked for his protests.