Brave Swans Crash Out! Europa League Diary 28.02.14
The European adventure of last year’s Capital One Cup winners last night came to an end at the hands of Rafael Benitez’s Napoli but it was certainly not for a lack of effort on Swansea’s part. The visitors were excellent over both legs with there even being a strong case to argue that Garry Monk’s charges had the better of the one hundred and eighty minutes of football.
As I mentioned last week, whilst the performance from Swansea at the Liberty Stadium was excellent, they may end up living to regret their missed opportunities to take a lead to the San Paulo, and that was proven to be correct. Napoli took the lead in the tie inside the first half through the exciting Lorenzo Insigne who was far and away the biggest threat Swansea faced in both matches, however the Italians were pegged back by a Jonathon de Guzman goal following some slack marking.
This left the tie poised at 1-1 with Swansea set to progress on away goals and full credit to the visitors for not simply trying to hold onto their away goal advantage. Swansea still looked for a second goal to put the on the ropes Napoli side out of the competition with Wilfried Bony going close with a header that ultimately was just too close to Pepe Reina, whilst Pablo Hernandez was always a threat just hovering in his number ten position looking to play Bony in behind.
After half-time the match was slightly different with Swansea still matching the hosts but you could see Napoli were growing in confidence the more they had the ball with the introduction of Marek Hamsik improving their play substantially. Insigne on the left hand side was still very much the go to man for Napoli and the regularity with which Insigne received the ball meant that the right hand side was often ignored. Wing-back Christian Maggio was often in acres of space on the right hand side with Ben Davies tucking inside as Napoli simply refused to try and work the ball down the right hand flank, despite this being one of their most successful avenues of attack this campaign.
When Lorenzo Insigne was substituted in the sixty eighth minute Garry Monk realised that play was not going to be exclusive to the left hand side and instantly made a substitution which he hoped would keep Napoli at bay. Marvin Emnes who had been a surprise starter was withdrawn with Neil Taylor being brought on at left midfield. It was Taylor’s job to shackle the forward runs of Maggio and force Napoli to continue to avoid the right hand side. This was a well thought out plan by Garry Monk and showed a considerable amount of tactical nous on one of the highest stages however it was not enough.
Napoli piled on the pressure and as always with a Rafael Benitez team in European competition you felt that a goal was inevitable, despite how well Swansea defended or how lethargic Napoli looked at times on the ball, you always felt that the Napoli goal would come. It did, twelve minutes from time when Gonzalo Higuain was first to a loose ball inside the penalty area and smashed the shot past Vorm.
What would have annoyed Garry Monk most about this goal was how it came from the right hand side, the side where there was supposed to be double coverage. Neil Taylor despite having not long been on the pitch went to sleep and allowed Marek Hamsik to drift into the devastating area between the left sided central defender and the left-back and Ben Davies was left with two men to try and stop as the right flank became overloaded, although Davies did not cover himself in glory with his positioning.
The goal was a disappointment but it set up a brace last ten minute assault on the Napoli goalmouth from Swansea with several chances being created for the Welsh side. Wilfried Bony was more than a nuisance to the Napoli defenders, pressing every loose ball and it paid dividends with the number of free-kicks and corners the Swans earned in the final minutes. Unfortunately none were good enough to score a crucial second away goal with Dwight Tiendalli going closest when his goal bound free header forced an athletic save from Reina.
It was a cruel blow but an expected blow when Napoli made it 3-1 with virtually the last kick of the tie as Swansea had thrown almost the whole team forward in attack and such is the cleverness of Hamsik, you were never going to get a poor decision from the Slovakian when the Naples side had a two on one break away. Hamsik placed it coolly into the path of Gokhan Inler who slotted through the legs of Michel Vorm to close the book on Swansea’s continental adventure.
Swansea were fantastic, nothing can be taken away from them but as Michael Laudrup and later Garry Monk’s side have found, at the top European level you have to take your chances when you have a team on the ropes and Swansea failed to do that in both legs against Napoli and paid the price. It seems unlikely that Swansea will earn continental qualification for next season but the experience for both the players and more importantly the supporters this year will be one of great significance.
In the evening’s second and final match involving a Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspur welcomed Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to White Hart Lane knowing they had to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg to progress to the next round. Spurs started the match well in terms of possession with Christian Eriksen receiving a lot of the ball, however in a scrappy stop-start match, chances were few and far between much to the frustration of boss Tim Sherwood.
With Spurs saying goodbye to one goalscorer at half-time with Jermain Defoe set to leave for Toronto over the course of the next few days it seemed rather ironic that after Dnipro took the lead early in the second half, Spurs would need three goals to progress when in the first half it appeared getting just the one needed for extra time would be a struggle for the hosts.
The atmosphere around White Hart Lane flattened once Zozulya’s header beat Hugo Lloris at his near post however just nine minutes later Spurs pulled a goal back. Christian Eriksen’s well struck free-kick evoked memories of last season’s Europa League run when many a Gareth Bale free-kick helped Spurs on their way to a victory in the competition however the true turning point came shortly after.
Jan Vertonghen and Roman Zozulya had actually had a spat of sorts in the first half when the Belgian accused the burly Ukrainian forward of going to ground rather theatrically and words continued to be exchanged throughout the match. Things came to a head when Dnipro had to defend a free-kick with the score at 1-1. Vertonghen appeared to try and push himself away from Zozulya’s tight marking only for the Ukrainian to lay the defender out with a headbutt. A clear red card which would go onto cost Dnipro dearly.
Playing with ten men in European competition is an increasingly difficult task with many teams now having a player on the pitch who can just hold the ball, spread passes to either flank and really tire a defence out and make use of the gap caused by having a man sent off. Spurs did just that yesterday evening with Eriksen getting on the ball and controlling the game, Dnipro never really adapted to having to play with less men and Emmanuel Adebayor’s four minute brace made the score 3-2 on aggregate and sent Spurs into the next round of the competition
Tottenham were given a late scare when Yevhen Konoplyanka who was easily the most impressive player across the two matches, struck the left hand post of Hugo Lloris’ goal after a well worked free-kick routine from the visitors. Tottenham will play Benfica in the next round of the competition.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4