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Kalidou Koulibaly and Napoli can build on unlucky PSG draw

02:16 BST 27/10/2018
Kalidou Koulibaly Napoli
Carlo Ancelotti will hope his Senegal star and his teammates go from strength to strength after creditable continental draw in Paris

COMMENT    By Seye Omidiora      Follow on Twitter 

There’s a general, unwritten, consensus that big games really solidify players’ belief in a new head coach, and for Kalidou Koulibaly and his Napoli teammates, the trip to France to play European heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League represented a real acid test to test how far they’ve come under new manager Carlo Ancelotti.

For every new trainer, the ‘honeymoon’ period represents the time in which he starts out at his new place of employment and seeks to take advantage of the goodwill that accompanies his arrival.

Critics are far less judgmental during this bedding-in period and always seek to watch how things play out, in relation to performances and results, before beginning to appraise how the new man in faring in the job.

For someone as experienced and decorated as Ancelotti, that period of harmony tends to last longer than the average head coach, owing to his reputation and past success. During that period of extended goodwill, it’s imperative to get the players onside and get them buying into whatever you’re trying to achieve.

Having failed their first ‘big test’ of the season in the 3-1 defeat to Juventus in late September, the trip to face his old side in Paris would’ve been chance to measure their progress, especially against a side boasting of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.

The eventual 2-2 draw at Parc des Princes was harsh on Partenopei given they kept Thomas Tuchel’s attacking trio at bay for large periods. For perspective, the game in Paris represented the first time since the commencement of Ligue 1 that neither of the frontmen has scored or assisted in a game, which further illustrates how well Koulibaly and his defensive partners held their own.

PSG’s first was an unfortunate own goal by left-back Mario Rui, while the late, late equalizer was a rabbit out of the hat moment from Angel Di Maria. When you consider the away side lost Lorenzo Insigne, which crippled their attacking verve, at the start of the second-half you begin to wonder what might have been had they not lost their potency.

A point, as opposed to three, leaves Koulibaly and co. on five with Liverpool (six) and the French giants (four) either side as Group C reaches crunch time.

Having played a good game to limit Jurgen Klopp’s attacking threat in matchday two; the Senegal defender will need to deliver a colossal performance to help his side see off the devastating attacking force of the Parisians in the return game at San Paolo.

The centre-back has overcome a somewhat average start to the season – understandable after his World Cup exertions with Senegal – and has started to show some of the form that saw him rise to being one of the top defenders in Europe in the last couple of years.

Admittedly, there have been disappointing results along the way, case in point: the freak 3-0 loss against Sampdoria and aforementioned 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Old Lady – a game in which Ancelotti’s side scored first, but you feel the players are starting to understand what the new manager requires.

After the heavy defeat against La Samp, and before their entertaining draw in Paris, the towering defender played a huge role in securing six clean sheets in eight games following good performances. He’s beginning to go through the gears for the Little Donkeys heading into the autumn.

Having held off Cavani in Paris, K2 will look to continue his recent good form when he comes up against Edin Dzeko when Roma come to down in Ancelotti's latest test.

In truth, the towering frontman hasn’t been at his best this season, going by his return of two goals in eight, but the Bosnia and Herzegovina international still poses a great threat – as evidenced by his midweek brace (and assist for the third) in a 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow. Those strikes took his recent form for club and country to eight goals in his last six games.

Following Massimiliano Allegri’s side’s unexpected 1-1 draw at home to Genoa last time out, the Blues sit four points behind I Bianconeri and know they can’t afford many slip-ups if they’re to wrest the title from a side that have secured seven successive Scudetti.

After initial teething problems, Napoli are starting to find a bit more consistency in their performances as Ancelotti comes to grips with the job.

To go the distance in the league, he’ll need his Senegal international to maintain his good form over the season if they’re to halt Juventus’ hegemony.

It will be difficult, but certainly not impossible, as long as manager and player build on their recent success.