Can Napoli, Italy’s romantic title contender, keep their dreams afloat?

It seems to be the law of football that, in every league and in every cup competition every season, there must be a romantic challenger: a team that may not necessarily have the best chance of success, but plays the game in such a way that it attracts the affection of the average fan. In the last two years in the Italian league, it was Atalanta; This year, this mantle moved to Naples. Coached by Luciano Spalletti, whose sensational football brand debuted widely at Udinese in the mid-2000s, the Italian south side has a lot to love about it. Of course, this club found itself for the first time on the world map after the splendid stint in Naples under Diego Maradona between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, during which time he led them to Serie A, the European Cup, and the Coppa Italia. Italian Super Cup. Maradona’s incredible achievements, achieved at a time when Milan Arrigo Sacchi was at its heyday, were so impressive that after his death last November, Napoli renamed their stadium after him. However, it has been a while since it looked like they might win the First Division in style befitting the late Argentine legend. They were as close as they came in 2017-18, finishing behind Juventus – and they may come close again this season.

Napoli started this season with eight consecutive league wins, a streak that was stopped by stubborn Roma. This new look was something new. The year before, under Gennaro Gattuso, they were regularly one of the most entertaining teams in the division, and were able to overcome strong opposition in a matter of minutes: watch, for example, their expulsion from Atalanta in October 2020, when they scored four goals in 20 minutes of The first half, she eventually won 4-1. However, they were also prone to capitulating at the worst possible moments, and had so many disappointing results that they missed qualifying for the Champions League in the last game of the season. However, it seems that this season they are accompanying their flair more firmly in their goal. Their 2-1 win over Juventus in mid-September, thanks to a late win from their defender Kalidou Koulibaly, looked like a remarkable victory, one that saw them edge by eight points over one of their traditional rivals.

Napoli have been a team that plays in perfect harmony for most of this season: theirs is a multicultural mix of veterans and defectors, filled with characters of great cunning, charisma and experience. To name a few, there is the elegant Spaniard, Fabian Ruiz, who patrols and controls the defensive midfield; Hirving Lozano, an accomplished and elusive striker from Mexico, the architect of many devastating attacks; The Belgian fraudsters Dries Mertens and Italian Lorenzo Insigne. Mertens, Napoli’s all-time leading scorer, and Insigne, after his victory with Italy at Euro 2020, should be on a special mission this season. They are two of the club’s oldest players of the modern era and have been privy to most of its joys and despair of recent times. Insigne, as a premium playmaker from Naples, has borne the brunt of all. All the talented attacking midfielders who play for Napoli are, to some extent, under Maradona, but he had an impressive career nonetheless, twice winning the Italian Cup with Napoli and winning over 50 caps with Italy. He even has a strong sense of the occasion: in the first match after Maradona’s death, Insigne scored a stunning free kick and then flew away towards the television cameras, passionately dedicated to Napoli’s enduring idol.

The diversity of Napoli’s playing staff is quite recent, but they are no strangers to nostalgia. In some home games, they’ve worn a T-shirt bearing Maradona’s face design, a great homage to their great past – in the past few weeks, though, the dream of a great future has seemed less certain. They have lost three crucial league matches – against close rivals Inter Milan and Atalanta, and most recently against Empoli, strong and mediocre tablo players, with crucial goals in each of those matches arriving after the 60-minute mark. This indicates a certain failure in the management of the game, the inability to maintain or save a comfortable position. It’s a trend that Napoli needs to address quickly. The one thing that is certain for a romantic challenger is that once a casual fan falls in love with you, threats to your happiness begin to multiply.

Of course, the threats multiplied for Naples. To win the title, they will have to withstand the absences – first of injury, then of the Africa Cup of Nations in January and February – of Senegal’s Koulibaly and Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen, a striker who has achieved such great timing and poise. Naples attack. This is in addition to an illness Ruiz suffers from that has kept him away from some of the major fall matches. If there’s one thing they’re lacking, it’s the indifference of the team that has won it all before: for their sake, Spalletti can usefully frame this campaign as a rendezvous with fate.

If he so desires, he should move soon. This weekend, Napoli will face AC Milan, a team directly above them in the table who is in similarly uncertain shape and one of their greatest historical rivals. Although neither team represented the victorious force as it once was, this tie still presents an important test: Milan, like Napoli, may be a team on the verge of returning to former glories, so a Napoli win could be It has a significant restorative effect. adjectives.

With that in mind, Spalletti has to be bold: this is a select group of players whose time has come. Their talents are extensive yet complementary, and many of their gameplay segments are wonderfully complex. By the end of the season they may not have regained control and remain at the top of Serie A, but it will be rare to see them trying. For a few seasons, if you want to be entertained, it was a wise choice to always watch Atalanta. But this season, we must add the following adage: “Never miss Naples.”

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