Napoli have three wins from three Serie A matches and Kaustubh Pandey explains how the team is evolving under Luciano Spalletti despite a low-key transfer window.
Even though we are only three games into the Serie A season, there seems to be a certainty about Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli. It doesn’t pertain to the fact that they will win every game or they will win the league, but it is the fact that they are one of the strongest contenders for the top four and in what is expected to be a tight Scudetto race, they could have a lot to say.
On Saturday, the win over Juventus was impressive, but it wasn’t a triumph over the strongest Serie A side. The Bianconeri are a confused unit, possessing little or no certainty about their squad or a core group of reliable players. Three years on, they still look like a side in transition.
On exactly the other end of the spectrum lie Napoli. Fresh from a heartbreaking season that had them miss out on the top four on the last day, they had a low-key window. While Juan Jesus will only add depth to the backline, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa came in as a maverick who can grab hold of games and change them from midfield. He was signed from Fulham after Diego Demme and Stanislav Lobotka picked up injuries during the summer.
Perhaps, there’s a reason why Napoli had a low-key window. That’s because they didn’t need much more than that. They only needed extra depth in a squad whose main goal was to keep hold of their most important players.
Victor Osimhen, who had a rather on and off 2020-21 season, is already catching fire. Hirving Lozano has impressed, potentially signalling his real arrival in Serie A. Fabian Ruiz has sparkled in midfield, carrying on from where he left off under Rino Gattuso and more than anyone else, Eljif Elmas looks like a force.
In some ways, a host of players in that squad were just waiting to catch fire. There were embers last season, but the time is now ripe for them to really make an impact. And while defensive concerns can still be called out, considering how Kostas Manolas has regressed and gave away a goal against Juve, the Partenopei have depth and reliable quality in every department.
The frontline has a host of players who can play in a variety of positions and the same applies to the midfield. Juve can say the same, but Max Allegri is yet to develop a reliable spine for his system. And Juve lost Cristiano Ronaldo, while Napoli kept their prized assets for another season.
Spalletti has made a name for himself by getting his teams to overperform constantly. He’s a combination of man-management and tactical astuteness, the lack of which Gattuso was sometimes criticised for. He may have never won the Scudetto, but the equation is way different now than it used to be.
Under Maurizio Sarri, Napoli played the best brand of football in Italy and, perhaps, Europe. With Carlo Ancelotti and Gennaro Gattuso, they were also looking for quality over quantity. In Spalletti, they have a coach who can provide both, but, more than anything, the Tuscan is an experienced and pragmatic tactician who hardly misses out on his target. Napoli want a top-four finish, but perhaps, they can aim for more.
There are no clear favourites in Serie A this season, no overwhelming possibilities. There is only a rough outline for the teams that could potentially make the top four. While Napoli may not be top of that list for many, the closeness of the race may make sure that none of the contenders can be counted out.
And arguably, the current Napoli side is the best and the most expensively assembled squad Spalletti has ever had. It is a combination of youth, experience and players that are expected to catch fire. While the win over Juve may not point to anything too concrete just yet, it is certain that the Partenopei are a contender.