Pepe Reina preserves Napoli's win, tabs club for UCL comeback vs. Real Madrid
Polish FA president Zbigniew Boniek turned up in the dressing room after Napoli beat Roma 2-1 to cement its third position after a recent wobble. Even he might not have minded that coach Maurizio Sarri continues to pick Dries Mertens ahead of fit-again Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik. Mertens scored twice in a crucial 2-1 win at second-placed Roma to make it 18 goals in as many Serie A starts this season.
The key moment in this one was late on: Napoli had been coasting until Kevin Strootman pulled a goal back for the host in the 89th minute. Suddenly, Roma was pushing for an unlikely point and it almost came when Diego Perotti fired in a low shot that cannoned of Kalidou Koulibaly and up toward the top corner. Reina shifted his body mid-dive and somehow deflected the ball onto the post. He was sharp enough to clear away the rebound before Antonio Rudiger could connect to it.
The result has put on hold the strained relationship between coach Sarri and owner Aurelio de Laurentiis, but that could come up again if this week’s Champions League match against Real Madrid goes against the Italian side. With Mertens, who celebrated with a dog-inspired four-legged ‘gift’ on the corner flag, in honor of his dog Juliette, on current form, scoring goals should not be a problem; but keeping them out against the Champions League holder might be.
Standing in the way is Reina, the 34-year-old Spaniard who declared after the first leg that Napoli could win.
“We can beat Madrid 2-0 at home, and that is the challenge we face now. The away goal is important, we are going to pressure them from the start.”
Reina was at fault for a midweek goal conceded in the Coppa Italia against Juventus but more than made up for it against Roma. He will have to be at his best against the might of Madrid Tuesday night.