Inter’s 11-game winning streak will be put to the test when the Nerazzuri visit the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona for a marquee Sunday night Serie A clash, formerly the San Paolo. To get ready for what is sure to be a riveting ninety minutes, we asked Napoli expert and host of The Forza Napoli Calcio Podcast Joseph Fischetti to stop by and graciously give us inside knowledge on the going-ons in Naples. If you’re the Twitter type, you can follow Joseph here and the podcast here for everything you could want to know about Napoli.
Q: One of the biggest signings of last summer was Victor Osimhen’s €70 million move to Napoli. How has the Nigerian’s debut season fared? What are his expectations for next season?
A: It’s been a tough season for Osimhen. He was out for a month-and-a-half with a shoulder injury he picked up representing Nigeria in the African Cup of Nations. He subsequently missed a month after contracting COVID celebrating his 22nd birthday. He was heavily criticized for that but he was authorized by the club to return home for the family function. He also missed two games with a head injury, so it’s been a tough season for him with respect to injuries.
That said, when he has played he’s been very effective. He has five goals and two assists in 16 Serie A appearances, which is decent production for a young player in a new league and new country, where the primary language is not his native English. Moreover, stats are not a great way to measure Osimhen’s contributions on the field. He is so quick that when he plays, there is more space for everyone else to play in and hence the team performance improves.
Of course, that production may not justify a €70 million price tag, but no one could have anticipated the injuries. Also, only €50 million of the purchase price was cash and the remaining €20 million was value in kind for four players who joined Lille, none of whom were part of Napoli’s plan: our third keeper Orestis Karnezis and three Primavera players. Finally, that transfer fee is a long term investment. Osimhen has four years remaining on his five-year contract. The expectation is that next year he will be the number one striker. If he works on his physical strength in the offseason, Osimhen could be a devastating force in the 2021/22 Serie A campaign.
Q: Gennaro Gattuso was heavily rumored to be facing a sack midseason but its April and he’s still around. What’s been the verdict on his tenure so far? Could he stay next season?
A: I never subscribed to the view that Gattuso would be fired mid-season, at least not unless there was a terrible collapse. Even with all of the injuries Napoli have endured (at one point the club had nearly an entire XI of injured players), the top four has always been within reach. Also, none of the managers Napoli have been linked to could join mid-season. Juric, De Zerbi and Italiano have contracts with their current clubs. Sarri, Allegri and Spalletti would not join a club mid-season.
While a scudetto was certainly achievable with how competitive Serie A has been this season, the goal has always been to qualify for the Champions League. As we’ve seen with Napoli’s form of late, when this team is healthy, Gattuso is capable of delivering results.
Nevertheless, I do not believe Gattuso will be the manager next season, even if Napoli finish in the top four. I believe the relationship between Gattuso and De Laurentiis is damaged beyond repair. Gattuso’s niche may be to get struggling teams back on track and potentially into European cups. He did it with Milan. He’s doing it with Napoli. And he could possibly do it for Fiorentina next seasons. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the tactical acumen to achieve much in the Champions League.
Q: What are Napoli’s major strengths? On the contrary, where do the Partenopei struggle?
A: When healthy, our biggest strengths are depth and flexibility, particularly in the attack. We have three strikers in Osimhen, Mertens and Petagna, who enable us to change our approach in response to the circumstances. Mertens also has the flexibility to drop into the number 10 and Zielinski has the flexibility to drop into the double pivot. Likewise, on the right wing we have two players in Lozano and Politano that are probably starters on most Serie A teams, and again they give you different looks. Similarly, we have two goalkeepers that are probably starts on most teams as well, and we have arguably the best left winger and centre back in all of Serie A.
We do have a few weaknesses. Most of the goals we concede are the result of unforced errors. We tend to play to our opponent’s level and we’re not particularly strong at defending the counter. That concerns me the most playing against Inter because Inter have arguably the best counterattack in all of Serie A.
Q: And lastly, how do you expect Sunday’s marquee clash playing out? Do you have a score prediction?
A: I think both sides are going to be very cautious. I expect Inter to sit back and look to strike on the counter. As I said, that concerns me a great deal as Napoli are not particularly strong at defending the counter. I’m also concerned about Inter’s wingbacks, particularly Achraf Hakimi. Neither of our left backs have the pace to keep up with him, which means Kalidou Koulibaly will have to help. That could disrupt our structure. Manolas And Di Lorenzo would have to shift to over to cover, leaving the left wing exposed to the late run.
At the other end, if Osimhen starts, which is by no means a guarantee, a mid block would really limit the space that he has to play in. Osimhen also has a tough matchup against Inter’s back three of Skriniar, Bastoni and De Vrij. For that reason, I wouldn’t be shocked if Gattuso played Mertens instead, as he did against Juventus, with Osimhen providing an option off the bench.
I think neither side will want to concede and therefore I’m expecting a low scoring affair. In fact, I don’t think either team will score at all. My prediction is a 0-0 draw, but it won’t be boring! That said, an early goal from either side could make this a very open game.
Another massive thanks to Joseph! Don’t forget to give him a follow on Twitter here and check out his podcast, The Forza Napoli Calcio Podcast.