Real Madrid had a bit of a scare put into them by a strong first half from Napoli in the second leg of their Champions League tie, but two second-half goals from Sergio Ramos proved to be exactly what the defending champions needed to win the match 3-1, and the tie by an impressive 6-2 aggregate scoreline.
Napoli started the match on the front foot, trying to soak in the incredible energy coming from the crowd at the Stadio San Paolo and turning into what they needed to knock Real Madrid off balance early on. They actually seemed to catch Real slightly unprepared, with their guests not seeming to know what to do with the attacking pressure Napoli were bringing.
That early pressure led to an early goal for Napoli, with Marek Hamsik breaking into space before feeding Dries Mertens for a fantastic first-time finish. It was the exact start Napoli needed, piling pressure onto Real Madrid and cutting the aggregate lead to a single goal with lots of time left in the match.
Napoli would keep up the pressure throughout the first half and nearly scored several more times, but it would ultimately be Real Madrid who struck next, with Sergio Ramos rising high on a corner kick early in the second half. That goal put the game almost out of reach for Napoli — a task Ramos finished just six minutes later, with another headed goal from another corner, with set pieces turning into Napoli’s Achilles’ heel in this match.
From there Real Madrid just had to see the match out — there was no realistic way for Napoli to overcome a 6-2 aggregate score, which Real Madrid got up to after Alvaro Morata got a dagger in stoppage time, and that proved to be the case. The partenopei kept fighting, but there was little they could do to change the outcome of the match and the tie. Real Madrid were just too much for them.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan (Rog 56’), Diawara, Hamsik (Zielinski 75’); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (Milik 70’)
Goals: Mertens (24’)
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric (Isco 80’); Bale (Vazquez 68’), Benzema (Morata 77’), Cristiano Ronaldo
Goals: Ramos (51’, 57’), Morata (90’+1)
Three things we learned
Marek Hamsik is a captain’s captain
When you’re coming into a match as big as this, it’s vitally important for a club’s captain to not only put in a big performance, but to help make sure the rest of his squad keeps an even keel and knows what they need to do at all times. That’s not something every club actually gets from their captain, though — but with Marek Hamsik wearing the armband, Napoli have nothing to worry about.
From the first whistle, Hamsik was visibly calm on the pitch, easily and constantly directing his teammates in adjustments and plans to try to capitalize on the advantage in momentum they held in the first half. He was a calming presence they needed very much given the pressure of the day and the incredible energy of the fans, and Napoli benefited greatly from it. They benefited even more from his play on the pitch, where his cool head on the ball opened up numerous scoring chances for Napoli,
Sergio Ramos is a legend
When no one else on the Real Madrid squad could score against Napoli to put them away, up stepped Sergio Ramos. He scored a brace of goals in a matter of six minutes to put Napoli away in the second half, only further affirming that, now with 81 career goals, Ramos is one of the most lethal players on set pieces we’ve ever seen, and that he is the consummate big-game player.
Time and again throughout his career, Ramos has found a way to step up and almost single-handedly win huge games for Real Madrid, either through scoring crucial goals, locking down a key attacker, or both. And while he’ll mostly be lauded for those two goals, the fact that he kept Mertens absolutely quiet after switching onto him and having Pepe take other tasks after roughly the 35th minute was a huge factor for keeping Napoli to one goal, because Mertens had been running circles around Pepe before that.
Napoli just aren’t quite ready for the big time yet
There’s nothing to be ashamed of in this. The elite teams are the elite teams for a reason, and it’s not easy to join their ranks. Napoli put in a performance to be proud of over both legs, but ultimately got overwhelmed by Real’s superior on-pitch quality. Napoli don’t have the experience or depth yet to be able to make the most of opportunities like this, and that ultimately proved to be their doom in this tie.
But the important thing for Napoli fans to keep in mind is that they got to this tie in impressive fashion and they still looked very good for most of both legs. There’s no shame in this result — Real Madrid are the defending champions for a reason. Napoli are heading in the right direction, they’re just not there yet. But one day soon, they just might be.