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Napoli are BOMBING After Winning the Scudetto

5 minute read Published January 11, 2024

Pizza, mafia, football and Pompeii. Napoli is a bustling city with a lot of history and, as a football city, has a sort of magic about it and it’s much thanks to one man, Maradona. And for good reason. During his time at the club they went from a mid table team to winning the Scudetto twice and placing second twice, with Maradona as top scorer.

In fact, the last time Napoli won the Scudetto was Maradona's last season at the club - the 1989/1990 season. Since then the club has been to the Serie C and back, finishing a few seasons in the top three but haven’t been able to win it all. That is until last season, when Luciano Spaletti took the team all the way and they won their first Scudetto in more than 30 years. 

The season featured fun, fast, attacking football and the breakthrough of attacking stars Victor Osimhen, Kvicha Kvaratskhelia and centre back Kim Min-jae.

The start of the 23/24 season however, tells a very different story. Napoli are now 9th in the Serie A, 20 points off first placed Inter, and have already sacked their manager, Rudi Garcia. What’s happened?

Position Team Goals for Goals against Points
7 Lazio 23 20 30
8 Roma 31 21 29
9 Napoli 28 24 28
10 Torino 18 18 27
11 Monza 19 20 25

Luciano Spaletti goes on sabbatical

After winning the Scudetto, coach Luciano Spaletti told Napoli owner and chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis (also known as ADL) that, although he had a year left on his contract, he was tired and that he had achieved what he could with Napoli for the moment and wanted a sabbatical, which he was granted. 

Luciano Spaletti

Only a few months later, Mancini stepped down as the Italian national team manager, Spaletti was approached for the role. De Laurentiis was outraged because “Gli Azzurri” didn’t want to buy out the remainder of his contract left with Napoli, saying:

Admittedly, €3 million is not a lot to Calcio Napoli and even less to me, but the question in this case is not about the “almighty dollar”, but a matter of principle instead.

When Spaletti left, Rudi Garcia was hired as his replacement but already in October, just two months into the season, ADL said:

I’m having a bad time with him. I am an entrepreneur, I have a duty to take an interest in my business. [...] When you take a coach who no longer knows Italian football, maybe he has difficulties.

Garcia was fired in November when the club was in fourth, winning eight and losing four. 

Walter Mazzarri, who successfully coached Napoli between 2009 and 2013 was hired as his replacement. Since then, Mazzarri has failed to provide that “new manager bounce” and, if anything, they’re playing worse, only winning three in ten.

Summer transfer window and Napoli players

Out of the most commonly played starting eleven from the championship winning season, Napoli only lost one player - Kim Min-Jae. A big loss, sure, but Napoli are used to losing important players. The season before that for example, they lost Koulibaly, Ruiz and Milik in the summer window.

Napoli also have a history of competently replacing the players they lost. For example, with Koulibaly and Milik going out, they brought in Min-jae and Kvaratskhelia (nightmare to spell, that one).

The team also kept both Kvaratskhelia and Osimhen, players that had gotten a lot of interest after being two of the best performers on the team last season, despite interest from PSG, Liverpool, Chelsea and more.

Min-jae, being one of the standout centre backs in the world last season, was of course a tough player to replace. Danish centre back Jesper Linstrøm, who was their big signing of the summer hasn’t been off to the start anyone had hoped and has had limited minutes so far this season.

In the winter transfer window, Napoli has brought in Salernitana full back Mazzocchi to strengthen their back line. Mazzocchi has already debuted for the club against Torino where he got a red card in the 50th minute. Not a debut to remember.

Tactics and defensive issues

Gone is the fast paced, attacking football that Spaletti had the team playing last season but mainly, Napolis issues appear to be defensive. The team still produces a lot of goals, only five teams have outscored them this season, but they are conceding a lot and place 13th by goals conceded. It’s safe to say that the team is missing Kim Min-jae’s stability and confidence at the back.

Mazzarri is known to use a three at the back formation but for some reason he’s been reluctant to deploy it at Napoli. It’s possible the legacy of their winning season, where Spaletti played a four man defence, makes it seem risky to change the team up too much. At this point though, Mazzarri has little to lose by just going for it and playing the way he’s used to.

Going forward

The risk is that things get worse before they get better for Napoli. They’ve lost both their top scorer, Osimhen, and their midfield anchor in Anguissa to AFCON, for as long as Nigeria and Cameroon are still in the competition (the final is on February 11th).

Victor Osimhen

Mazzarri only has a contract until the end of the season and, if he stays that long, it’s unlikely that would be extended. Rumour has it that ADL is already out trying to hire a new coach. Antonio Conte and Thiago Motta have both been connected to the job but why would Motta leave Bologna at this point? 

Conte was spotted at a Napoli game this weekend but unless he is very eager to get back into the game, he’s got little to gain by taking over at this point. Maybe it’s more like a train wreck, he can’t help but stare.

The team is probably better than the results suggest and it’s likely that they will start performing to a higher standard just purely based on the quality of the squad. 

On a positive note, although the team is in tenth, the top four is not too far off, as Fiorentina are just five points ahead of Napoli. The team also managed to make it through to the knockout stage of the Champions League. If you ask a Napoli fan though, you probably won’t get a happy response.

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