Like the Bundesliga, and to a degree La Liga, Serie A has been a league which has been run by dominance of one particular club: Juventus. Juve have dominated the league for a good part of the past decade as they have won the Scudetto for six years running and have enjoyed premier success in the Champions League as well. This past decade has also seen the dramatic drop in form by both Inter and AC Milan. The two former European giants aren’t the same clubs they were back in the 2000’s or the years before that.
Combine the drop from both along with the rise of Juventus after the infamous Calciopoli scandal and you have seen a league run by the Bianconeri. But this season seems different. There seems to be a tide turning in Italian football and the waves are being caused by a club in Naples.
Expectations for Napoli winning Serie A weren’t even being discussed much less being a possibility. Even with Napoli’s quality attackers up top, they were still feeling the effects of losing a player like Gonzalo Higuain. The effects were ramified given he left for Juventus and the feeling was Italian soccer was in for another repeat year. Especially after seeing a season where Juventus won the Italian double for a second year in a row (Serie A and Coppa Italia) and finished runners up in the Champions League, losing in the final to Real Madrid. But this season has seen the official re-birth of Partenopei, one which many didn’t see coming.
Napoli have gotten off to a fantastic start in terms of the Serie A title race. They are currently at 54 points after 21 matches, winning 17 and losing just 1. Ironically, the lone loss came against Juventus on December 1st with Higuain scoring the winning goal. Napoli have seemed to have gotten past the key defeat as they have suffered only one loss in all competitions since then, which was a loss to Atalanta in the Coppa Italia quarter-final.
Headlined by the trio of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, and Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli have a speedy attack force which has seen them score 45 goals in league play this season, third highest in Serie A. Mertens has been the main leader for Napoli’s offense, scoring 13 goals for them in all competitions. Callejon and Insigne have been solid complimentary options, scoring 6 and 5 goals respectively. All three players have the pace to catch defenders off guard on the counter and the creativity to create goal scoring chances out of nothing. Behind this trio of players and a steady midfield, Napoli are able to quickly flip defensive possessions into offensive. Using Insigne and Callejon as do-it-all wingers, Napoli are able to funnel the ball to them after winning it back and it’s off to the races. With a flurry of through balls or over top balls behind the opposing centre backs or to the wings, Napoli have formed a very fun attacking side.
But what’s been even more important to Napoli’s title contending has been their defense. They have only given up 13 goals in Serie A this season which is the lowest amount conceded by any team in Italy. They have gotten massive production from their centrebacks in Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly. Pepe Reina has still maintained his reign as one of the more underrated keepers in all of Europe. This rock solid defense has also complimented their counter attacking style as they haven’t kept a solid amount of possession this season but just enough to do damage. Napoli want to make games a version of controlled chaos. They want it to be pacy and frantic, but to their style.
It’s even more impressive considering Albiol and Reina are both 35 and 32 respectively. With Mertens being 30 as well it’s clear Napoli have some veteran leaders in the clubhouse to help guide the team. But it also doesn’t mean there aren’t some youngsters helping out. Insigne, Koulibaly, Piotr Zielinski, and Elseid Hysaj are all under the age of 27. It’s a good mix of veteran leadership and some youth.
The only blemish on their season has been their Champions League campaign, which saw them exit in the group stage. Although they were in a very tough group with the likes of Manchester City and Shaktar Donetsk, advancing wasn’t guaranteed but something they expected. Now with them in the Europa League, they have a tough challenge in a tie against RB Leipzig. Like Napoli, the German club are pacy and love to press. It will be a matchup of equals and who knows which team will win.
Napoli also have to keep fending off Juventus, who are still at their throats in the Serie A table. Juventus have been matching Napoli stride for stride and are coming for their 7th straight title. Juve currently sit one point behind first place and any slip up by Napoli can cost them. They have some key matchups coming up against Inter, Roma, and the big matchup against Juve on April 22nd in their way if they want to raise the Scudetto.
It’s been a while since Napoli have won Serie A. 26 years in fact. It’s a club with some rich history and have had legends like Maradona play for them. This isn’t like times where Napoli have relied on a star talisman to lead them to wins like they did with Edison Cavani and Higuain as of late. It’s a team filled with no superstars and one which could finish off Juve’s streak in Serie A. They are a grind it out team but have been fun to watch as well. They are looking like a team of destiny and could bring the Scudetto back to Naples.