Napoli go to the October break with seven wins from seven games and Stephen Kasiewicz imagines Diego Maradona would be proud of such a perfect start.
For Napoli fans of a certain vintage, the Azzurri’s perfect start to the season may bring back long cherished memories.
It is 31 years since Diego Maradona spearheaded a talent-laden team to an unforgettable second Scudetto, opening with a dazzling 16 game unbeaten run in the 1989-1990 championship. Nostalgia and reality are two different things entirely but fans of the Partenopei are daring to dream after six victories from six games.
Top of the table, netting 18 times and conceding just three times, there are plenty of positive signs in what already looks like being the most open and fiercely contested Serie A Campionato for more than a decade.
Napoli don’t possess anyone in the same footballing stratosphere as the greatest of all time Maradona, yet in the stadium that bears his name optimism among the Azzurri support is steadily growing. Captain and native Neapolitan Lorenzo Insigne – who was part of Maurizio Sarri’s team which kicked off with eight wins in a row before finishing second in the 2017-2018 campaign – is unlikely to mention anything about a potential title challenge.
Missing out on the Champions League, after stumbling to a lackadaisical home draw on the final day of last term against Hellas Verona, remains a sore point for a player who feels the anguish of the Tifosi more than any other player in Luciano Spalletti’s squad.
Publicly, the 30-year-old winger has targeted a top-four place, and the evidence from the opening half-dozen matches suggests Napoli will challenge for a Champions League berth at the very least. The only blemish in a spotless sequence came in an ill-tempered Europa League loss at home to Spartak Moscow.
Spalletti had much to ponder in the aftermath of the 3-2 defeat although it didn’t undo any of the good work which powered his team to the head of the Classifica.
No coincidence Napoli quickly returned to winning ways with a convincing 2-1 win over Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Despite a goal from Lucas Martinez Quarta in the first half, Napoli managed to go to the break with a 1-1 stalemate, a consequence of an Hirvinz Lozano goal which was the quickest to pounce on the rebound of a missed Insigne penalty.
Napoli didn’t dominate the game but proved to be a mature side, able to read the different moments of the game and after Amir Rrahmani goal in the second half, they could have scored more on the counter.
It’s the approach and attitude which have changed.
Static and inclined to move sideways rather than forward under the leadership of Gennaro Gattuso, there is now a forceful, incisive vibrancy, particularly in midfield.
Piotr Zielinski and Fabian Ruiz are now uninhibited offensive threats and look more likely to attempt shots at goal in key areas than continually play in repetitive triangular patterns.
The Polish and Spanish internationals have already registered league goals and coupled with the blistering pace and penetration of Insigne, Matteo Politano and Hirving Lozano on the wings Napoli will continue to engineer numerous presentable opportunities in every match.
So far Victor Osimhen can be relied upon to convert those chances, striking four times, and excelling with his hold up play, intelligent movement, and aerial dominance. The Nigerian is showing why Napoli shelled out €70m in the summer of 2020 to make him their club-record capture from French club Lille.
Allied to the defensive inspiration and surprisingly crucial goals provided by the reliably excellent Kalidou Koulibaly, the 21-year-old striker must continue his prolific run if the Partenopei are to remain permanent fixtures at the table summit.
The starring protagonists are well known; however, the supporting cast will also play an essential backup role.
Kosovan central defender Rrahmani has not looked out of place in the last four games and has already scored two goals.
Skilful North Macedonian midfielder Elif Elmas, Algerian wide man Adam Ounas and Italian attacker Andrea Petanga were retained despite a loan attempt for his services from Sampdoria in the transfer window – will all be expected to contribute when given precious playing time.
As expectations soar skywards, it’s inevitable past glories will be mentioned in a football-obsessed city craving any kind of present-day success.
The lavish Maradona murals adorning city walls are a constant reminder of the team’s glorious triumphs more than three decades ago. The seasoned Spalletti, who has already downplayed Napoli’s run citing a lack of sufficient squad depth, is unlikely to ever feature on any city artwork.
Yet, at least for now, the Azzurri’s long-suffering Tifosi can again be rightly proud of their team, who deservedly sit atop the standings playing an alluring style of football even the great Diego would surely appreciate.