Swansea 0-0 Napoli: Italians hold on for draw
Napoli boast a several few frightening attributes and achievements, especially if you're a relegation-combating club. Their potent attacking force would have pushed more than a handful of managrs into turning to defensive strategies. But not the young and fearless Gary Monk.
His side were unlucky not to have emerged from the encounter with any clear advantage have completely dominated and out-classed Rafa Benitez's star-studded Napoli team. The possession stats were proof of the Welsh side's supremacy, having comprehensively beaten Napoli's midfield 69% to 21%.
The Naples outfit failed to contend with the pace, energy and creativity of Pablo Hernandez, Wayne Routeledge and Nathan Dyer, who was forced to come off towards the consummation of the encounter. While all the talk may have been of Napoli's attacking four, composed of Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzalo Higuain, it was the Swansea attack force which excelled as Monk's men pushed to seal an advantage before their visit to the Sao Paulo next Thursday.
Their Europa League hopes, however, are still very much alive, having thwarted their Italian opponents from netting a decisive away goal. This last 32 tie is hanging by a thread. It has the capacity to swing either way. But it made for a frustrating evening as their supreme dominance failed to secure the outcome it warranted.
Swans boss Monk had insisted his men would play without fear, claiming they would be eaten alive by the Neapolitans. His players, and starting line-up, did not disappoint as Swansea took the game to their visitors.
Monk named a strong eleven to walk out at the Libery Stadium, with Williams, Chico, Dyer and Bony all regaining their place in the starting selections, having missed the Swans' FA Cup defeat to Everton last Sunday. It fuelled encouragement for their ardent support, but when the likes of Hamsik and Higuain, who had been an injury doubt, were announced to be starting, their hopes subsided into anxiety ahead of kick-off.
But the hosts' blistering twenty minute start was more than capable of dispelling concerns as Swansea could and should have lead.
Hernandez, Routledge and Dyer excelled as they provided Swansea with a strong attacking presence. The ageing Anthony Reveillere, a right-footed left-back aged 34, was tied up in knots by the speed, youth and trickery of Nathan Dyer while Routledge posed problems and Hernandez provided the hosts with their creative spark. And it was the Spaniard who excellently fed Bony with a wonderful through-ball, but the Ivorian failed to capitalize on the promising opening. He took more than the necessary amount of touches and subsequently allowed Rafael Cabral to spread himself to bravely block the striker's effort.
It didn't take long for another appealing opportunity to arrive at the feet of the hosts, or should I say, the head of Ashley Williams. The Swans had outwitted their opponents with a short corner, with Hernandez delivering an inviting cross into the box. And Williams, unmarked at the far post, headed over the bar.
Routledge's speculative strike was stopped convincingly by Cabral before the Brazilian 'keeper tipped Rangel's header over the bar as Swansea piled on the pressure in an endeavour to deservedly open the scoring before the interval.
Pepe Reina, who replaced Cabral at half-time due to his succumbing to injury, produced a great save to conserve his side's clean-sheet. The Spaniard dived acrobatically to thwart Williams's point-blank header, with the Welsh defender proving himself to be an aerial hazard time and time again.
Reina parries away Routledge's curling effort before collecting Chico's header as Swansea paid for their prolifigacy. And now, the Neapolitans look the favourites at the Sao Paulo.
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