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Europa League exit could be a blessing in disguise for Napoli

301   //    24 Feb 2018, 12:31 IST

Napoli v RB Leipzig - UEFA Europa League
Sarri giving instructions during Napoli's UEFA Europa League home clash against RB Leipzig

Napoli crashed out of this season's UEFA Europa League in the Round of 32, despite their 2-0 victory over Bundesliga side RB Leipzig in Thursday's second leg fixture. Leipzig have progressed into the last-16 on away goal rule, having netted three away goals during last week's first leg in Italy. 

The Partenopei crashing out of European competition could prove crucial in this season's Scudetto race, as they'll battle Juventus once again for top spot. Napoli sit atop the Serie A standings, a point ahead of Juve and a whopping 16 in-front of AS Roma - who have been inconsistent this term. 

With 13 league matches left to play between now and mid-May, the title race is undoubtedly a two-horse race and one which could go down to the wire. 

Keen to end Juventus' dominance

Juventus have been dominant in Italy and won six consecutive league titles. Though unlikely, Napoli have the perfect opportunity to end the Bianconeri's spell at the top - having improved remarkably under Maurizio Sarri. 

Since his appointment in 2015, the former Empoli boss has implemented a fluid-flowing brand of attacking football. Second and third-placed finishes later, he'll be hoping to make them top-flight champions in his third campaign in charge. 

Playing with Dries Mertens in the false nine role, Napoli's attackers interchange freely. Allowing them to torement opposition defences with seeming ease, it also helps create a number of goalscoring opportunities every match for the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon, who have developed in Sarri's successful system. 

AS Roma v SSC Napoli - Serie A
Insigne and Callejon (furthest right) have excelled under Sarri's tactical setup in recent seasons

For all of their attacking brilliance, this spell with Sarri will not be truly considered a success unless they have some silverware to show for their efforts - that's something he'd be aware of, no less. Keen to win their first Scudetto in the post-Maradona era, having no more Europa League fixtures to contend with could prove beneficial in the long-term. 

The Thursday-Sunday schedule was always going to be taxing on players, which has a knock-on effect during their subsequent league matches. All three of their league draws this term have come directly after Champions League competition, and it's likely that Europa League fixtures would also have a similar effect on their domestic form if they were to genuinely push for silverware on two fronts this season. 

Marek Hamsik surpassed Maradona to become Napoli's all-time leading goalscorer on 118 goals. If the 30-year-old creative midfielder can inspire his teammates to utilise their extra rest days to help fuel their hunger for the Scudetto, the Slovakian will cement his own legendary status in Naples.

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