HOW LUCIANO SPALLETTI MADE THE NAPOLI LEADERS SERIES ‘THE MOST FUN CLUB IN ITALY’ – INSIDE EUROPA

Having spent most of the last decade teasing a title push, Napoli’s quick start to the current campaign has many people thinking this could finally be the year they get their hands on a first Scudetto since 1990. Sunday night’s 1-0 win over Roma saw Luciano Spalletti’s side extend their Serie A unbeaten run to 11 games with nine wins and two draws, putting them three points clear of reigning champions AC Milan. in the table. Spalletti, who took charge of the club in 2021, has implemented an exciting brand of football that has been praised across the continent by fans and pundits alike. Napoli also continued in good form in Europe, where they currently sit at the top of the Champions League group with a perfect record, including big wins over Liverpool and Ajax. Ahead of their next home encounter with Rangers – who they easily defeated 3-0 in the reverse match – Eurosport Italia’s Michele Neri explains why Napoli are so good this season and how far they can go at home and in Europe. WHAT WAS THE CATALYST FOR THE WAY NÁPOLI STARTED THE SEASON? If I have to choose a player, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is the star of this Napoli team. He has contributed 13 goals in all competitions this season (seven goals and six assists) – more than any other player in the Italian league. He also won a decisive penalty in the decisive away win against Milan. Napoli keep undefeated start thanks to Osimhen’s rout at Roma UEFA Champions League – Who can progress? Napoli, Club Bruges, Bayern, Real and Man City Napoli scored four goals at Ajax and secured the knockout in style The Georgian had a devastating impact and it’s hard to find a game where he hasn’t shown it. He seems to have played at this level his entire life. He is only 21 years old and it looks like he will become one of the best in Europe in his role. Some were quick to call him ‘Kvaradona’, with the reference to Diego Maradona. Obviously an exaggeration, but he is a great talent. However, the real catalyst is Spalletti, who has formed a solid group, in which the important players extend beyond the top 11. Substitutions work, each player was useful in these first few months of the season and integrated the newcomers to perfection. He had already worked well last year, but this season he is doing his best, in the development of his group and how he navigates the matches. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY CHANGES IN THE SUMMER, HOW HAVE THE NEW HIRINGS ADAPTED SO FAR? Yes, in the summer Napoli changed a lot of players. Some key elements from past seasons were sold: [Kalidou] Koulibaly, [Lorenzo] Insigne, Fabian Ruiz, [David] Ospina and [Dries] Mertens. And that’s why a lot of people thought it would be a transitional season. This extraordinary performance, especially in the first few months, was really hard to predict. However, the newcomers proved to be the same as the ones who left, or even better. An undertaking that seemed impossible not so long ago. Therefore, sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli deserves credit for observing and buying all the good players, some almost unknown. The best buy is undoubtedly Kvaratskhelia for €10 million, but even Kim Min-jae (taken from Fenerbahce for €18 million) is impressing everyone. An impeccable defender, aggressive, accurate, fast and good in the air. He made people forget about Koulibaly quickly. [Giacomo] Raspadori, who we already knew very well, was another good buy – he’s been scoring a lot of goals, especially in the Champions League. Giovanni Simeone, when asked, also responded with goals. Mathias Olivera has played a few times in Mario Rui’s place, he also looks good. [Tanguy] Ndombélé is useful in midfield. [Leo] Ostigard and [Salvatore] Sirigu are the only signings so far who almost never play. WHO WERE THE FEATURED PLAYERS THIS SEASON? It is very difficult to find Napoli players who are not shining right now. Given that Kvaratskhelia is the star and Kim is standing out, the focus moves to the midfield trio. [Andre-Frank Zambo] Anguissa is currently injured, but he, along with [Stanislav] Lobotka and [Piotr] Zielinski, is a very scary prospect for all opponents. They are physically strong, win many battles and are very smart in the offensive phase, with and without the ball. Personally, I like Lobotka a lot, as he started very badly in Naples, but ultimately with Spalletti he became essential. Two players who were not very expected and who are important are [Alex] Meret, who in the summer seemed ready to leave Napoli for a less important club in Serie A, and Mario Rui, who is a very technical defender. His performances have been mostly excellent. Finally, Victor Osimhen is doing something extraordinary. He was absent for over 40 days due to injury, returning after Raspadori and Simeone made excellent starts, and then scoring three goals in his first three games. ARE BEING CONSIDERED THE MOST EXCITING TEAM TO WATCH IN EUROPE, IS THIS PRAISE JUSTIFIED? Certainly Napoli is the most fun club in Italy, and that is already an important achievement, as there is competition from Milan, Inter, Lazio, Atalanta and Udinese, who play very well, but not as consistently as Napoli. However, compared to the rest of Europe, in a game between Napoli and Manchester City, for example, I still prefer to watch Pep Guardiola’s team, and because they have special players like Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland. In Serie A, we are not there yet. WHAT IS SPALLETTI DOING TO MAKE THIS TEAM SO EXCITING TO SEE? Spalletti, who in Italy is highly respected because his teams have always qualified well, was able to continue the excellent work of last season. Now they seem unstoppable. Because, contrary to what was initially thought, the team is stronger and richer with useful and functional players. Players who have been there for a year understand better what the coach is asking for. New purchases are very strong players who learned everything quickly. Their 11-game winning streak is a sign of a group that works. Great mental strength and a very technical team. Sometimes, when it’s not the best day, individuals can save them. Like Osimhen in Rome. Spalletti has the merit of knowing how to study opponents and the moments of the matches, but first of all knowing his players and understanding when they can help. WHAT CAN NAPOLI OBSERVE TO ACHIEVE THIS SEASON? Napoli will definitely try to win the Scudetto. The stop for the World Cup is the big unknown for all teams. Spalletti hopes to stay in the race until the end without losing key points on the road. Milan and Inter are the two opponents he will have to deal with. In Europe, however, he has no goals but hopes not to find a top club in the round of 16. So, let’s say the quarterfinals would already be a good goal. But never say never, this Napoli has always surprised us so far.

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