Home Sports Napoli’s dangerous squad depth leaves Serie A rivals | Series A

Napoli’s dangerous squad depth leaves Serie A rivals | Series A


“Ethe match itself is a journey into the unknown,” insisted Luciano Spalletti on Saturday, but his team continue to arrive at the same destination. Sometimes the path is rough and sometimes smooth, but at the end They attacked always finds the three points they were looking for.

This weekend brought their 10th straight win, extending the streak that took them to the top of the Series A and their Champions League group. On paper, the home game against Bologna, who started the weekend one place above the relegation zone, looked straightforward. In practice, it was the windiest road.

The visitors took the lead with a well-worked goal in the 41st minute, three players combining to net 21-year-old Joshua Zirkzy on his first start. Their lead didn’t hold until half-time, Juan Jesus equalizing from a corner after Gary Madel made a mess of a clearance. If the source of the goal was surprising – Jesus filling in for the injured Amir Rahmani at centre-back and scoring three times in his previous 250 Serie A games – it is not. Napoli created chances throughout the first half, most of which came from the restless Hvic Kvaratchelii.

There was a seven-minute stretch in which he created four separate scoring opportunities, sending Giacomo Raspadori, Mario Rui and then Matteo Politano across the face of the goal with his own strike in between. Kvaratchelia himself was the only one to demand a save from the goalkeeper, although Rui did hit the post.

A man local name “Quaradona” scored seven goals and provided six assists in all competitions, but even those numbers don’t fully convey his impact: the consistency with which he finds space between the lines and the ease with which he distributes the ball with either foot. One Neapolitan reporter characterized him on Sunday as the “Van Gogh of football pitches”, painting a new masterpiece every week.

Khvica Kvaratchelija in action against Bologna. Photo: Cesare Abbate/EPA

He was instrumental in the goal that gave Napoli a 2-1 lead just after the break, chasing down a pass from the left and beating two defenders before firing through a narrow window across goal. “Bologna” player Lukasz Skorupski could only parry and the ball went to Hirving Lozan, who buried it at the back post. This should have ended this match as a contest with Napoli dominating in all phases of the game. Instead, they allowed Bologna to equalize again two minutes later when Moussa Barou fired a 25-yard shot past goalkeeper Alex Merrett.

However, Napoli never looked in danger. It was a cat and a mouse playing with their prey, allowing only the illusion of hope. In the 69th minute, Kvaratchelia opened the door for Bologna again, rolling a pass to Viktor Osikhen, who scored Skorupski.

If Kvaratchelia was a great performer, the personality of his collaborator felt no less important to this ultimate goal. Asimkhene only returned midweek after a muscle injury that kept him out for a month. He had already come off the bench to score in Napoli’s win over Ajax before repeating the trick here.

Not so long ago, Osihen was considered an indispensable figure in the Napoli team. The club’s all-time record signing: He helped them to the top of Serie A last season before a broken cheekbone in their opening defeat to Inter in November sidelined him for two months. By the time he returned, his teammates had lost three more times and were six points behind.

This time, during his absence, there were no such struggles. Summer signing Raspadori is a different form of centre-forward, almost half a foot shorter and more comfortable roaming the pitch instead of targeting defenders. A false nine, in other words, to the genuine article Osimhen. Raspadori has started most games up front in the Nigerian’s absence, and did so against Ajax and Bologna. Spalletti’s Napoli, like his Roma side in the late 2000s when he reinvented Francesco Totti as the front man in the famous 4-6-0 formation, thrived on denying the opposition landmarks, allowing themselves to attack at any time, from any angle.

Thirteen different players have scored for them in 10 league games and you can add two more if you include their Champions League appearances. Raspadora’s willingness to free up space in the center creates opportunities for Lozano, Politano or Kvaratchelii to cut in from the flanks, while Piotr Zielinski, Andre-Frank Zamba Anguissa or Stanislaus Lobotka can take it in turns to roam forward from midfield.

Does the same formula work with Osimhen in the composition? Spalletti has insisted in various interviews that it’s a matter of horses for courses, suggesting that some matchups require physicality up front, while other defenses are best nullified by stealth and movement.

Luciano Spalletti and the assistant referee during the match.
Luciano Spalletti and the assistant referee during the match. Photo: Ciro de Luca/Reuters

With characteristic confidence, the manager said in his pre-match press conference that balancing the strikers’ ambitions with the team’s needs was “easy”. Maybe it was because he saw the chemistry between them first hand. When asked during Dazn’s post-match interview about the competition for places, Osimhen said: “I love Raspadori. I liked him when he was at Sassuolo, I’m not just saying that because we’re in the same team now. He’s a great player and a great guy. We have a great relationship and I’m excited about his progress. The main thing is that we are united, there is a lot of solidarity in this team.”

Not everyone can be so patient. Midfielder Elif Elmos, who scored seven goals and provided six assists last season but has only started twice so far this campaign, caused a stir with an Instagram post last week in which he stood outside the dugout with the caption: “My first love: the bench.” However, the club’s instinct has not been to overreact to a player airing personal frustrations lightly.

Ultimately, it’s the depth of this Napoli team that makes them dangerous. Even with Asimhen absent, if Spalletti wanted to give Raspadori a rest, he could send on Giovanni Simeone, another summer arrival who scored four goals in 277 minutes on the pitch. Jesus skillfully replaced Rahmani against Bologna, as did Tangi Ndombele for Angisa in midfield.

Which side in Serie A can boast a wider range of options in so many positions? After Merrett’s blunder – and he again narrowly missed when he swung at a corner late on – we can also remind ourselves that Napoli have Salvatore Sirigu, capped 28 times for Italy, available as a back-up goalkeeper in case of one bad game will turn into a complete – sharp crisis of confidence.

A brief guide

Series A results


Atalanta 2-1 Sassuolo, Torino 0-1 Juventus, Empoli 1-0 Monza, Verona 1-2 Milan, Napoli 3-2 Bologna, Lazio 2-2 Cremonese, Lazio 0-0 Udinese, Inter 2-0 Salernitana

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“It’s a great group to coach,” Spalletti said full-time. “The team is playing good football and everyone wants to improve. I see the interest in learning, I see that everyone is involved.” He continued to sidestep premature talk of how this season might end. Spalletti knows the future no better than the rest of us. But he and his players are enjoying every winning journey. on this way.


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