Diego Maradona may have passed away almost two years ago, but in Naples, he most certainly lives on. This season, Napoli are the hot favorites to take the Serie A title, having drawn five points clear at the top with only 12 games played.
The last time this club achieved such a feat?
Well, that was in 1990, the second of only two league titles ever won by the club, of course, spearheaded by the man they refer to as ‘D10S’ himself.
Current boss Luciano Spalletti told La Gazzetta dello Sport that Maradona “would be proud” of his Napoli side, who have also beaten Liverpool, Ajax, and Rangers in the Champions League group stage this term. Napoli’s stadium has now been renamed the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, and they have a new player to have picked up his moniker too.
That’s Georgian ace Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who has already earned the nickname ‘Kvaradona’, his signing a masterstroke by sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli. The 21-year-old has already netted six goals and provided five assists to his teammates in his first-ever 11 Serie A starts, including one goal and two assists in last weekend’s 4-0 demolition of Sassuolo.
The more established Serie A sides are struggling to get going in 2022/23, and reigning Champions Milan lost ground to Napoli at the top with a 2-1 defeat away at Torino on Sunday. Stefano Pioli’s men hadn’t lost away from San Siro in over a year, their 17-game winning streak previously the longest run in all of Europe’s top five leagues.
“We weren’t sharp, did not play at a high level, and we didn’t have the right determination in the incidents that could change the game,” Pioli told DAZN afterward. “We were poor in our own area and the opposition box.”
While Milan has stumbled, cross-city rivals Inter are clicking into gear. The return of Romelu Lukaku was a huge boost for Simone Inzaghi – that was until he picked up a new injury at the weekend – yet there’s an Italian star that is also grabbing the headlines.
Midfielder Nicolò Barella has discovered some truly excellent form of late and has found the back of the net in four of his last five matches. That record includes a superb strike in Inter’s 3-0 win over Sampdoria at the weekend, one so high in quality that it deserves to be watched back on repeat.
Juventus are also quietly putting a run together, despite suffering from poor form under Max Allegri. A goal from homegrown talent Nicolò Fagioli gave the Bianconeri a 1-0 win over Lecce, making it three wins from three in the league.
Yet the shock of the weekend was in Rome, where Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio was thumped 3-1 at home to Salernitana. Sarri will know all too well that opposition boss Davide Nicola is no slouch, but this was a game that his side should have won with relative comfort.
Sure, striker Ciro Immobile is out with injury, but Sarri has overcome much worse setbacks before when he converted winger Dries Mertens to an emergency number nine to spectacular effect.
Things went from bad to worse for Lazio when the boss introduced star midfielder Sergej Milinković-Savić – who was only one booking away from a suspension – into the action, only for the Serbian to receive…yes, you’ve guessed it…a yellow card.
“When you want to try to manage these situations [with suspensions] you always end up with a mess,” Sarri admitted afterward. “I’ve rarely made choices of this sort, but the derby gets into your head a bit. Thinking back, I would act differently.”
Next weekend’s Rome derby was exactly why Sarri had attempted to keep Milinković-Savić out of trouble by limiting his minutes on the field, but the boss will now have to come up with a plan to beat Roma with a depleted side.
The derby is not the only big fixture next weekend, as leaders Napoli travel to Bergamo to face second-place Atalanta. A win for Gasperini’s side would see them close the gap to top spot to just two points, whereas his opposite number Spalletti would see Napoli extend the gap to a whopping eight points.
As if that wasn’t enough, the late Sunday fixture sees Juventus host Inter in Turin, the latest edition of the Derby d’Italia, a fixture that always seems to deliver fireworks.
Although not a traditional geographical derby, the phrase was coined by Italian journalist Gianni Brera in 1967 to convey the significance of a match between two teams from the biggest industrial cities in the country, and two of the three most highly decorated teams in the history of the Italian top flight.
Meanwhile, Milan could take advantage of the top sides battling it out against each other as they welcome Spezia to San Siro. Luca Gotti’s men lost to a late Fiorentina goal at the weekend and sit in 16th place in the table, however, there could be a potential banana skin awaiting the home side.
Spezia has proved to be a difficult opponent for Stefano Pioli of late, and have won two of their last four encounters with Milan including a 2-1 victory at San Siro in January of this year.
With small upstarts challenging the proven elite, Serie A is simply fascinating right now, and next weekend’s fixture list provides even the most casual observer with a real treat in store. One of the most unpredictable of Europe’s top leagues, it will be fascinating to watch whether Napoli can continue their dominance and who will slot into the role as their main challengers this season.
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Chloe Beresford is an experienced Serie A expert, with previous bylines at Forbes, The Guardian, AS Roma and many more. She has appeared on the radio at Sirius XFM and on the BBC Euro Leagues podcast. Watching live games in Italy and experiencing all the country has to offer are her biggest passions.