Every soccer coach has a trademark reaction to times of woe. Some slump back in their seat, others throw their hands up in frustration, while one former manager would chew ever so slightly quicker on his stick of gum. When things are going wrong for Rafa Benitez, he begins to grimace and tends to touch his forehead or stroke his beard with quickening regularity. He did a lot of both last week.
Napoli couldn’t have had a more damaging return from the international break. A home defeat to Parma saw it fall six points off the pace in Serie A, while the failure to pick up the point it needed against Borussia Dortmund for Champions League qualification has left it with a mountain to climb against Arsenal next week.
The upshot is that a club that looked ready to challenge on two fronts is now an outsider in both. Only a win by a three-goal margin against the Premier League leaders will keep the club's Champions League challenge alive, while Juventus’ unrelenting form in Serie A suggests that the Partenopei need to become more ruthless – and fast – if they are to have any hope of sticking with the champions.
While their new dimension in attack since the sale of Edinson Cavani has largely driven Napoli forward, Benitez still has the problem of a somewhat static defensive unit to cope with. In Dortmund on Wednesday the team looked like Walter Mazzarri’s version of itself once more, becoming stretched far too easily and appearing vulnerable to dead balls throughout.