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Frustrated Napoli likely to face more stubborn resistance at the weekend

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By Reuters
Frustrated Napoli likely to face more stubborn resistance at the weekend
Soccer Football - Serie A - Napoli v Cagliari - Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy - September 25, 2019 Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly reacts before he is shown a red card by referee Marco Di Bello REUTERS/Ciro De Luca   -   Copyright  CIRO DE LUCA(Reuters)

MILAN (Reuters) – After dropping three points at home to Cagliari on Wednesday, Napoli know they cannot afford any more slip-ups when they face a similar match at home to Brescia on Sunday as leaders Inter Milan gallop away.

Napoli were expected to launch a serious challenge for the Serie A title this season, their second under Carlo Ancelotti, but have already dropped six points behind Antonio Conte’s Inter who have a 100 percent record from their five games.

Inter themselves will face a crisis-hit Sampdoria side who have lost four of their last five games and now find themselves bottom of the table.

Napoli, who have nine points, tried and failed to break down Cagliari’s stubborn defence in a frustrating evening on Wednesday and are likely to face more of the same from promoted Brescia.

Ancelotti said after Wednesday’s game said that it was too early to start getting worried about dropped points, although the usually unflappable coach seemed uncharacteristically ruffled as he faced the round of post-match interviews.

“Seeing that you are really determined to find something to criticise, I’ll say that, yes, we burst out crying when we look at the table,” he told one interviewer sarcastically, before quickly adding: “I’m not in the slightest bit worried about the disadvantage in the standings.”

The former Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus, Chelsea, Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich coach, who has won titles in all of Europe’s top five leagues apart from Spain, said he would not accept a performance being judged by one loss of concentration late in the game.

“Napoli played very well,” he said. “We could have done better but that’s always true in every situation. I do not judge a performance only on the result, that is something I won’t accept.

“We allowed Cagliari very few counter-attacks, hardly any. At the end, we stopped to make a half-hearted protest about a foul on (Napoli striker) Fernando Llorente and we were caught off-guard.”

“We created chances, forced their goalkeeper to make saves, hit the post twice, so overall it was a decent performance. Cagliari focused entirely on defence and closing down all the spaces.”

Napoli have finished as runners-up in three of the last four seasons although, in the last campaign, they never really offered a serious threat to Juventus who ran away with an eighth successive title.

One worry has been the form of defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who scored an last-gasp own goal in the 4-3 defeat to Juventus and was sent off against Cagliari.

“It was odd that Koulibaly was sent off for saying something to the referee and we had a series of yellow cards, when, if there was a team that was playing rough, it was Cagliari,” he said.

(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar)