Another round, another big game at the very top of the Serie A standings, with Napoli seeking a victory that could potentially allow them to re-enter the title pictures and gain ground after Inter and Juventus’ fast starts.
Serie A Week 13 – Sunday 26 November 2023 – Juventus Stadium | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Napoli ultimately decided to pull the plug on Rudi Garcia, and Aurelio De Laurentiis, as stubborn, flamboyant, and infuriating might be at times, deserves some credit for walking back a pivotal decision quickly without letting it do more damage. The display against Empoli clearly signified that something wasn’t working between the squad and Rudi Garcia, with the gaffer not helping his case with some baffling decisions strategically and big picture-wise. Even though they only rarely changed their scheme, he had modified its geometry and interpretation to benefit nobody besides maybe his ego.
The returning boss claims to have studied last year’s tactics and movements by heart. We’ll see about that as time goes by, as he couldn’t be any more different from Luciano Spalletti in every possible aspect. He never excelled in style points and didn’t exactly shine in his recent stints, so he’ll surely give his whole in this unexpected chance to revive his career.
After seeing what happened in the summer, and even more recently in the talks with Antonio Conte, there’s a non-zero chance Mazzarri will earn his confirmation on the pitch. Big-ticket managers aren’t exactly thrilled to work with such a cumbersome and hands-on president. Things had gotten silly and almost humiliating in the final days of Garcia. Owners should just take care of what they are knowledgeable about and let the gaffers work in peace, and eventually fire them if they aren’t satisfied with their work. In addition, there’s a ton of uncertainty about the future of a few of their stars, which doesn’t help lure top names.
That’ll be a matter for another day, and, considering that Inter are going like gangbusters and already built a comfortable lead over them, making the top four could be seen as a good enough result to stand pat. But there’ll surely be drama next summer. After all, their patron is a movie producer.
Two games aren’t a big enough sample size, and Atalanta did them a solid by gifting the second goal and a previous win in a challenging fixture. Despite Mazzarri’s declarations, things weren’t much different from their previous iteration tactically and strategically. But things got a lot better on the intangibles. The bond and chemistry between the squad and the coach seem a lot stronger now, leading to more cohesion and determination on the pitch. A few of their players were perhaps fed up with the previous boss and his overly convoluted ideas and remarks. The new one woke a few dormant contributors with his ‘grinta’ and, while he might not stand out for pizzazz, he’ll surely properly motivate the squad and convey the right commitment to the cause, which was probably lacking beforehand.
The plan shouldn’t be too difficult, but the former Roma and OM manager somehow managed to mess it up by trying to do too much and forcing his stamp on things. Instead, they should just let their aces cook and allow that to dictate their game plan. They have some uber-talented and high-usage guys who don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to do their thing. Spalletti fostered and magnified that with his proactive concepts and tremendous leadership, but also getting out of the way could work to bring them where they want to be. Catching up with Inter already seems like a tall order, and even attempting such a feat inevitably goes through a win in this one.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Natan, Jesus; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia.
Doubts: Jesus/Ostigard, Zielinski/Elmas, Osimhen/Raspadori.
Injury Report: Zielinski (knock), Lindstrom (tibialis posterior muscle strain), Zanoli (back pain) – Questionable; Rui (thigh strain), Olivera (knee sprain) – OUT.
Inter showed tremendous poise after going down in the score against Juventus, as they didn’t panic despite the perilous spot and equalized by not changing their MO and exploiting one of their usual fortes. Afterward, they decided not to stomp on the opponents’ throats, settling for a lot of possession and ultimately for a draw. While that wasn’t a bad result by any stretch of the imagination, they might come to regret not seizing the opportunity to assess a major blow to their main foe at this stage, more morally than mathematically since it’s early in the season, considering the horseshoe the Bianconeri have been carrying around this season.
Their sterile second half in Turin begs the question of how they’ll approach this one. Beating the Azzurri would pretty much eliminate them from the title race, at least unless they go on a glorious multi-month run, which is possible but not likely, especially with AFCON taking away a pair of their top players for a while in the winter.
The ensuing fixture versus Benfica dispelled the narrative about the potency of their depth a little, but not completely. The key reserves showed up when they revved up and stopped messing around. Not even they can afford to go with all backups, but that’ll never happen in normal situations, and at least they saved face, and they can get scary when they really turn it on. Considering their immense ceiling when that happens, it’d be nice if they did it more often and also in crucial spots, rather than play coy and self-limit their potential. It’s not as if they need to spare energy, and you never know what could happen down the line.
Alessandro Bastoni won’t be back for this one but isn’t far off, which will spare them some trouble in the coming matches. Francesco Acerbi and Stefan De Vrij are solid, but they can’t put too many miles on them and still expect them to be spotless. They lose some of the sneaky offense he provides, but even though it’d be quite the spectacle considering the attackers on the pitch on both sides, it’s unlikely to be a wide-open, fast-tempo game.
Benjamin Pavard is touted to respect his timetable, and Juan Cuadrado has looked like his usual self after a bothersome injury. If they don’t have other big injuries, they won’t need to do anything in January, as Giuseppe Marotta has been repeating in every interview. Still, Yann Aurel Bisseck doesn’t seem ready for these stages yet and could benefit from a loan to a minnow. They are one hiccup away from having to trust him in big spots, so they should perhaps take a look at what the center-back market has to offer in January and add a steady hand familiar with a three-man line. A bunch of veterans in the minnows would take the chance to join a big team even though they’d have a minor role.
The other area where they could intervene is the attack, as the links to Mehdi Taremi continue to linger. Marko Arnautovic has done little to prove to be worth a €8M investment, which they’ll have to make in February as per the conditions of the deal from Bologna. It’d be a cutthroat move to bail just before that, but crazier things have happened. It’ll depend on the conditions to potentially bring the Iranian forward, and if his own one lives up to the task in his next opportunities.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Sommer; Darmian, De Vrij, Acerbi; Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Thuram, Martinez.
Injury Report: Dumfries (muscle fatigue) – Probable; Bastoni (calf strain), Pavard (patellar dislocation) – OUT.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals