With the beginning of 2023’s calcio slate only hours away, Joe Fischetti joined us to share his Napoli expertise. Follow Joe on Twitter here and be sure to check out his awesome podcast the ForzaNapoliPod. A big thanks to Joe for stopping by!
Q: What’s been the secret to Napoli’s success so far?
A: Luciano Spalletti’s teams have a tendency to burst out of the gates and the fade away. However, this season, something feels different. The squad has a youthful exuberance that can only be attributed to the overhaul of players over the summer. With the departures of David Ospina, Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne, combined with the additions of Leo Ostigard, Gianluca Gaetano, Alessio Zerbin, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Giacomo Raspadori, Napoli’s average age decreased from 27.6 (fourth oldest in the league) to 26.0 (12th oldest).
Not only did gli Azzurri get younger, they also got deeper. In addition to those already mentioned, Napoli acquired left back Mathias Olivera, midfielder Tanguy Ndombele and striker Giovanni Simeone – all representing improvements to their predecessors. This has allowed Napoli to compete (and in fact succeed) in multiple competitions while limiting injuries. The Partenopei have sustained far fewer injuries than in the previous two campaigns.
Q: Napoli had an eventful summer transfer window, losing veteran stars like Lorenzo Insigne and Kalidou Koulibaly, but Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Kim Min-jae have come out of nowhere to be Serie A Best XI caliber. How would you grade Napoli’s summer market and how does it set the club up for the future?
A: 9.5/10. Napoli’s summer transfer market was near-perfect. Kvaratskhelia and Kim have replaced two pillars of the squad without a loss in quality. In fact, they have improved the squad, both on and off the pitch. Napoli offloaded nearly all of their highest paid players, while also generating plusfalenze on Koulibaly and Fabian Ruiz. The replacement players are all young and on relatively low wages, which sets up the club for years to come.
There is a risk, however, that Napoli could lose their new stars as Napoli’s success in the Champions League has drawn the attention of EPL clubs with deep pockets. As such, the club is eager to renegotiate Kim’s contract, which reportedly includes a €50 million release clause. Likewise, Napoli is reportedly offering Kvaratskhelia a pay increase in the hopes of extending the Georgian’s contract and adding a significant release clause.
Q: What does a successful second half of the season look like?
A: With an eight-point lead over their closest rivals approaching the midway point of the season, there can only be one objective (which won’t be said). Not only do Napoli have a healthy lead, but their nearest competitors are suffering in different ways. Milan once again have numerous injuries in their squad. Likewise, Juventus have had to manage several injuries throughout the season, while also dealing with the off-the-field distraction of the Prisma investigation. Lazio have a strong starting XI but may lack the squad depth to compete over the course of a 38-game season, while also participating in the Europa League and Coppa Italia – something Napoli fans are all-too-familiar with during Maurizio Sarri’s tenure at the club. Finally, Inter have dug themselves a significant hole having already lost five matches, all against direct rivals at the top of the table.
That said, much can change by the midway point of the season. Napoli’s next three matches are against Inter, Sampdoria and Juventus. Losses to Inter and Juventus could see that lead reduced to only two points, assuming Milan beat Salernitana, Roma and Torino.
Q: What are Napoli’s strengths and weaknesses?
A: Napoli have a number of strengths, both individually and collectively. They move the ball quickly with one-touch passes and constant movement off the ball. They press high as a collective unit, often forcing the opposition to go long and given possession right back. The midfield trio of Lobotka, Anguissa and Zielinski is arguably the strongest in the league, while Kvaratskhelia and Osimhen provide unique threats in attack. Kvaratskhelia is creative, unpredictable and capable of finishing with both feet. Osimhen has blistering pace, which will pose problems for Inter’s high line, and is also an aerial threat on set pieces. Raspadori and Simeone provide additional, diverse attacking options off the bench.
Napoli have few weaknesses. They tend to struggle against teams in the bottom half of the table, who park the bus and take away the space. At the moment, Napoli’s defense is somewhat of a liability. Denzel Dumfries is a matchup nightmare for Mario Rui on Inter’s right wing. This has led some to speculate that Mathias Olivera will start, despite returning from the World Cup only a week ahead of the Inter match. Napoli’s centre backs may not be 100% fit. Kim suffered a calf injury at the World Cup but recovered quickly. Amir Rrahmani has recovered from the thigh injury that caused him to miss Napoli’s last nine matches in all competitions. This physically fit, he certainly won’t be in form. As a result, Juan Jesus could well be in the starting XI. Jesus is physically fit, but represents a significant downgrade in quality when compared to Rrahmani.
Q: What is your prediction for game one of 2023?
A: 1-1. Both sides will have to shake off the rust of not having played competitively for nearly two months. Though recent meetings have been very competitive, Napoli have struggled to get results, particularly in Serie A. In the last 10 league meetings, Napoli have a record of 1 win, 4 draws and 5 losses. The Azzurri’s last league victory over Inter was on May 19, 2019, and their last league victory over Inter at the Meazza was on April 30, 2017. Residents of Campania have been prohibited from attending the match for safety reasons, so Napoli will also have to cope with the noise of 80,000+ Interisti.