It’s hard to ask for a more enticing return from the international break than Inter’s Sunday evening clash with Napoli. The champions of Italy will take on the current league leaders in front of what’s sure to be a packed San Siro. To prepare for the occasion, we checked in with Napoli expert Joe Fischetti, producer and host of the Forza Napoli Calcio Podcast. Joe is one of the best voices out there when it comes to Napoli so be sure to give him a follow on Twitter. A big thanks to Joe for stopping by!
Q: What have been the early takeaways from Luciano Spalletti’s reign? How has Napoli changed its approach under the Italian’s leadership compared to Gennaro Gattuso?
A: With the start Napoli has had, both in Serie A and the Europa League, it’s hard to find any faults with Luciano Spalletti. The most important thing he’s done with Napoli is change the players’ mentality. From the day he stepped foot in Napoli, his focus has been on two things: the fans and winning. This has translated into improved results on the pitch. On numerous occasions, Napoli have salvaged points in matches that they previously wouldn’t have, including wins against Juventus and Fiorentina where the opponent scored first.
While Gattuso played an important role in turning around the clubs fortunes, and that will not be forgotten, Spalletti is on another level tactically. Napoli play more compact and direct. They rarely turn back and play the ball to the keeper. There is clear focus on playing quick, one-touch passes to progress the ball and play out of tight situations or to break down the low block. Spalletti has reinvented Fabian Ruiz as a regista, and with the help of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, has rejuvenated the Spaniard. Spalletti is not afraid to rotate players for midweek fixtures and he rarely gets a substitution wrong.
Q: What are the Partenopei’s strengths so far? Who should should Inter be worried about?
A: Napoli’s biggest threat is without a doubt Victor Osimhen. He provides a combination of pace, size, strength and finishing that few strikers in all of football possess. Napoli like to hog possession and continue to attack, even when they have the lead. This is part of the reason why Napoli have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the league, by a significant margin at that. Anguissa, who was arguably Serie A’s signing of the summer, has played a huge role in improving Napoli’s defense. Of course, that back line is led by Kalidou Koulibaly, who’s playing as good as he’s ever played.
Q: On the flip side, where has Napoli struggled? Do any Inter players seem particularly dangerous to you?
A: On the pitch, Napoli might have become too dependent on Victor Osimhen for goals. Osimhen has scored 37.5% of Napoli’s goals in Serie A, and Napoli have generally struggled to score when he’s not in the lineup. In truth, there have been more struggles off the pitch than on it. Lorenzo Insigne still has not renewed his contract and negotiations are not going well. Insigne’s agent Vincenzo Pisacane recently told Il Roma that De Laurentiis has made an offer that would actually reduce Insigne’s salary to nearly 50% of what he currently earns. Insigne has not played poorly but he also hasn’t been his best, and it could be argued that the contract negotiations are beginning to affect his play. Much has been made about his struggles from the penalty spot. More recently, Hirving Lozano told TV Azteca Deportes that he would like to one day play for a bigger club, despite being unable to earn a starting role with Napoli. These off-the-field distractions are exactly the opposite of what Napoli need while sitting at the top of the table.
Napoli seem to match up quite well with Inter, particularly with the many Inter players not being at 100%. Nicolo Barella and Edin Dzeko are perfect examples. Dzeko has been more productive than many would have expected coming into this season. However, he didn’t play for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the recent international break and could well start on the bench for Inter. Barella has looked noticeably exhausted on the pitch. He has simply played too many minutes, and his style of play in the centre of the midfield is more physically demanding than any other players’ styles in any other positions. Though Mario Rui has had a strong season, Matteo Darmian (and potentially Denzel Dumfries off the bunch) could pose problems on Inter’s right wing.
Q: Do you think Napoli’s hot start is for real? What would a successful season look like in Naples?
A: It’s very difficult to say. It’s hard to ignore the fact Napoli have 10 wins, two draws and no losses in Serie A. However, Napoli have not had the most difficult schedule to begin the season. The Partenopei beat a Juventus team that was playing without Federico Chiesa and their contingent of South of American players. Napoli’s most impressive victory this campaign was against Vincenzo Italiano’s high-flying Fiorentina side who, at the time, had won four of their previous five matches. The only other top clubs Napoli have faced are Roma and Hellas Verona. Both of those matches resulted in draws, but both were acceptable results. The Roma match was at the Olimpico and the Giallorossi played one of their best games of the season. The Hellas Verona match was in Napoli but Hellas came into that match in fine form and have played very well against clubs at the top of the table.
At the moment, the goal remains a top 4 finish. It’s far too early to talk about a scudetto. Napoli play Inter, Lazio, Sassuolo, Atalanta and Milan all before the winter break. Then in January Napoli will had to play for nearly a month without Koulibaly, Osimhen and Anguissa. Consequently, we won’t know if Napoli are true contenders for the scudetto until February.
Q: And lastly, what’s your prediction for Sunday?
A: 1-1 draw (Osimhen, Lautaro)