If Napoli’s players are looking over their shoulders as they kick off the weekend’s Serie A fixtures with a visit to struggling Empoli, it should be not at the distant chasing pack but at coach Luciano Spalletti.
Napoli head into Saturday’s game having won seven straight in Serie A.
Their hosts are winless in their last four games. Victory would put Napoli 18 points clear of the chasing pack before their pursuers have even played.
After Napoli continued their dream season with a 2-0 victory in Frankfurt on Tuesday in a Champions League round-of-16 first leg, Spalletti responded to questions about whether his team were already through to the quarter-finals by laying out a philosophy that applies equally to the league campaign.
“If I see my players thinking like that when we get home this evening, they won’t play,” he said. “Conceit is the worst fault in players. We have to stay calm, very calm.”
But, the grim-faced coach added: “I’m happy, even if I don’t smile.”
After years of agonising collapses and near misses, Napoli seem to be cruising to their first Italian title since Diego Maradona led them to their only two titles in 1988 and 1990.
If they complete the job against Frankfurt, Napoli will reach the last eight of the Champions League for the first time.
They have dropped just seven points in 23 matches in Serie A. They have the best attack and the best defence.
No wonder the players and the fans who support them at the Diego Armando Stadium are excited.
“At the beginning of the season almost no one thought we could get to certain levels, the team is playing a beautiful game,” backup striker AlessioZerbin told Italian radio on Thursday.
“Seeing the Maradona always full, knowing that there are fans who travel around Italy and Europe to be near us, gives us a huge boost.”
The fixtures end on Tuesday with a Turin derby which gives Torino a rare chance to move above Juventus, who have dropped to seventh after a 15-point deduction, just two ahead of their neighbours.
2.6956: The number of points Napoli are averaging after 23 rounds. If they keep that up, they will finish with 102, matching the record total for a 20-team big-five European league set by Juventus in 2013-14.
41 years 25 days: Alessandro Costacurta’s age when he struck for Milan in 2007 making him the oldest scorer in Serie A. ZlatanIbrahimovic, who turned 41 in October during a long injury layoff, has been an unused substitute in Milan’s last two Serie A games. When he scores his next goal he will also overtake Italy great Silvio Piola, who was 40 years 4 months and nine days old when he struck for Novara in 1954.
Napoli’s dazzling attacking play has made them a team to watch and at the heart of it is the mesmerising creative play of the 21-year-old Georgian who has soared in his first season in Serie A. He is the league’s fourth-best scorer with 10 and also leads the league in assists with nine. In Frankfurt on Tuesday he missed a penalty but then atoned with a highlight-reel assist, a sharp no-look backheel to present Giovanni di Lorenzo with a clear shot that the right back slotted home.
Originally published at tribune.com.pk