Frosinone gave Napoli a little scare in the first round, but the champions easily roared back. Instead, despite resisting for a while, Sassuolo seemed like a work in progress against Atalanta.
Serie A Week 2 – Sunday 27 August 2023 – Stadio Armando Maradona | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Par for the course for Napoli in the opener, as it doesn’t hurt to have the most devastating weapon in the league and a cohort that has perfected the art of feeding him. The soft start will help Rudi Garcia get acclimated and fill enormous boots, but he’s smart, and he’s not touching much. Perhaps he could have been a little more cautious with fielding Jen-Lys Cajuste, but winning masks everything, and any choice to replace Frank Anguissa wouldn’t have been totally apt. The gap between the two coaches will probably be visible at the first signs of trouble. Still, their profiles are very similar. The main difference, which is no small thing, is that Luciano Spalletti finally triumphed after knocking at the doorstep a few times, while the French manager hasn’t. Perhaps his hunger for victory will turn out to be an asset.
The first order of business of their summer was keeping Victor Osimhen, and the fact that he wasn’t tempted to leave, combined with the massive asking price, made that pretty easy, even though it took a while to come to terms for an extension, which has reportedly been agreed upon but not signed yet.
This element is so prominent that it makes the whole window a success, even though their other moves were a bit questionable. They’ll probably end up being right with Natan since the track record of their scouting department is unassailable, but they could have gone with a more established player as Kim Min-Jae’s heir. Instead, they preferred saving the money for a coup in the midfield, which wasn’t necessary with Piotr Zielinski staying put, but they didn’t pull it off as Al-Ahli upset their applet cart on Gabri Veiga at the last moment. If they wanted to shore up that position, they could have spent a little more and added somebody who could deputize both Anguissa and Stanislav Lobotka, while Cajuste is a pure box-to-box.
Perhaps 4-2-3-1 will pop up more frequently. Giving more minutes to Giacomo Raspadori should be a priority since they splurged on him, and his weird skill set often catches opponents off guard. They have been testing him all over the pitch. His best role is probably false-nine since he has a knack for making winning plays, but that’s not viable, other than in select instances, for obvious reasons. Since Hirving Lozano’s future hangs in the balance, he could wind up serving as a right-winger somewhat regularly. It’d be a sizeable adjustment, even though their formation is narrow since it’s up to the fullback to provide width, and Giovanni Di Lorenzo is a proper stud.
They have been pretty determined in holding on to their youngsters, and they have a few talented ones. Therefore, another point high on their agenda should be giving them minutes, or it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to stunt their growth. It’s a risk only a few gaffers are willing to take where there’s a rock-solid XI in place. They could have arguably gone further in Europe if they rotated more. Some starters got to the end of the season with their tongues sticking out. It was odd because making up for absences, no matter who’s out, has generally been a strong suit, and it happened again versus Frosinone, so they shouldn’t be shy about it. Repeating is always tougher than winning for the first time, and other contenders strengthened their rosters, but, since they dominated last year, they are in pole position despite losing their defensive pillar.
The lineup should be the standard one since Anguissa has one more week of practice in his legs, and Khvicha Kvaratshkelia shook off the ailment that sidelined him for the opener and probably won’t need to be eased into action. It remains to be seen how long it’ll take Natan to start. They are arguably already wasting time with him because their first two opponents are less than formidable.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Olivera; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia.
Doubts: Jesus/Natan, Olivera/Rui, Politano/Raspadori.
Injury Report: None
Domenico Berardi asked out for the nth summer in a row, and he was more serious in his intent than in the past since he actually missed time due to the situation, but it looks like his wish won’t be granted this time either. Probably players have yet to realize that Juventus are no longer throwing away money. Plus, he’s more valuable to the Neroverdi than to any other team, and, with each passing season, it’ll be tougher and tougher to come to terms on his valuation. He made his bed too, as he could have just not signed a long-term contract if he was so eager to depart. He’s unavailable for this one again, as he trained on the side for a while.
The issue at hand is to reel him in and get him re-engaged, but that hasn’t been an insurmountable roadblock in the past. He and the club generally managed to leave the transfer drama in the rearview mirror once they got back into the thick of things. Sassuolo were fair to drive a hard bargain late in the summer, as they are utterly unprepared to lose him, but his sentiment is also understandable. He won’t have many more chances to move to a big team with a significant role.
The Emilian side changed a lot, but, at the same time, only one key starter is different, Davide Frattesi, their best performer not named Berardi, who missed a lot of time with injuries. Since that has become a trend, they should have probably been more proactive in finding a proper alternative. Plus, it’d be better if Alessio Dionisi stopped fielding Gregoire Defrel in relief. He’s a fine striker in the box, but he no longer has the pace to hang on the flanks, and he has never been totally comfortable wide in his career. They brought in Cristian Volpato, but it appeared more favor to Roma than a technical choice. For a side that prides itself on developing youngsters, and rightly so, they have a coach that’s quite risk-averse and takes a while before fully trusting them. Whenever their star is out, their scheme is very lopsided as Armand Laurienté draws a lot of touches and attention. Even though he can glide past opponents at will, it’s a disservice to him and their offense in general.
Other than the Berardi affair, their summer has been a tease of potential sales that didn’t materialize. After a marvelous run in Serie B, Gabriel Boloca would be ready to step in to replace Maxime Lopez, but he’s still here, plus Matheus Henrique performed at high levels in the second half of the past campaign. They acquired Mattia Viti to succeed Gian Marco Ferrari, but the captain, even though he fell out of favor, hasn’t left yet. For some reason, the gaffer is enamored with Ruan Tressoldi despite his frequent blunders. Filippo Missori looked good in the opener, but he’ll probably have to take his lumps before unseating Jeremy Toljan; plus, they went with an underwhelming veteran, Matias Vina, on the left, and brought in Marcus Pedersen too. Midfield prodigy Luca Lipani is another one who probably won’t see real action for some time. Striker Samuele Mulattieri will have to wait to see if Andrea Pinamonti stinks up the joint again after a baffling campaign.
They didn’t even try to go out and find a box-to-box. Instead, they switched back to 4-2-3-1 and handed the reins to Nedim Bajrami in the hole. He was excellent at Empoli two years ago, but then his stocks plummeted quickly and drastically. Since Kristian Thorstvedt didn’t pan out, it’d be tough to revisit a three-man midfield, and Volpato is the only alternative as a no.10. They are walking a fine line and need their center-pieces to stay healthy and deliver.
The end product of a busy summer is a deeper squad but not a better one. They spread the Frattesi windfall around rather than making one pricey acquisition, signing a few promising starlets but not a home-run one. If a pair hit big, they could have a more satisfactory year than the last one, but it’s more likely they’ll be stuck in no man’s land again.
Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Consigli; Toljan, Erlic, Viti, Vina; Henrique, Lopez; Defrel, Bajrami, Laurienté; Pinamonti.
Doubts: Viti/Ruan, Vina/Missori, Defrel/Volpato.
Injury Report: Berardi (transfer market), Alvarez (ACL tear).
Napoli Win – Over 2.5