Napoli didn’t finish the job at home, but they need just a little nudge to secure their third Scudetto against Udinese. They’d do it before even playing if Lazio failed to beat Sassuolo.
Serie A Week 33 – Thursday 4 May 2023 – Dacia Arena | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Udinese’s season has been aggressively average, as they have done more than enough to keep the relegation concerns at bay, but they had shown a lot of promise early and couldn’t live up to it due to multiple stretches where they seemingly sleepwalked through fixtures. They partially restored their reputation as a team that’s brilliant in scouting with a pair of cheap but brilliant, but some incumbent players didn’t make the final leap as expected.
Jaka Bijol and Sandi Lovric were steals, and they’ll easily be their next plusvalenze in a year or two. The former is already one of the best anchors of a three-man defense in Serie A. Since several top teams use it, it’s easy to imagine he’ll end up there soon enough. He’s massive but has good enough feet to expertly start the action. He’s not as polished and promising as Torino’s Perr Schuurs, but he’s in a similar neighborhood.
The Croat is 25, so he can’t be considered a prospect, but they got him for free from Austria, and he was a day-one starter thanks to his all-around skillset. It doesn’t happen often, and they have alternatives in the role too. Given his age, he doesn’t have a ton of upside, but he still has room for improvement. He would fit any three-man line, given his technique and ability on channel runs. Kingsley Ehizibue has also been a minor revelation when he got going, as he didn’t come in with the reputation of being an offensive weapon, but he has been just that once he learned the ropes.
Lazar Samardzic, Norberto Beto, and Destiny Udogie have been extremely solid, but there’s the lingering feeling they haven’t tapped into their full potential just yet. The tallies of the young midfielders are remarkable, but he hasn’t been a full-time stone-cold starter because he occasionally takes matches or plays off, and no coach likes that. Since he’s a little mercurial, perhaps he’d be better off as a no.10, where he wouldn’t hurt the balance of the team if days when he doesn’t have it. Surely he can bust out classy plays at any time, and he’s an outstanding shooter.
The Portuguese striker has been totally fine, but he hasn’t been as productive as other center-forwards that are reasonability similar, for instance Spezia’s M’Bala Nzola and Salernitana’s Boulaye Dia, and they don’t star for teams that are significantly more offensive-minded then them. He possesses all the physical tools, but his first touch and decision-making need fine-tuning. Instead, Udogie already secured a move to a top team, so perhaps a little dip in his desire to prove his worth in any given game is understanding. It seems to be a trend for them, as he’s been okay but not superb.
They struggled to recover from losing Gerard Deulofeu to injury, as Florian Thauvin hasn’t really settled in yet. Isaac Success has incredible work rate and is great at combining with his teammates, but he has just one goal to his name. He got hurt too, and they mostly resorted to using Roberto Pereyra as a no.10, who’s still going strong despite his age.
Andrea Sottil panned out in his turn in the top flight, but more because of the team’s corporate knowledge than his own ideas. He was basically mandated to stick with 3-5-2 while he utilized a four-man defense in his previous stops. All indications are that he’ll be confirmed, and it’ll be interesting to see whether, now that they know what they have in him, they will allow him to spread his wings a little. Plus, besides Udogie, they might part ways with other stalwarts that are instrumental to their current scheme, making a tactical switch a more likely possibility.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Silvestri; Becao, Bijol, Perez; Ehizibue, Lovric, Walace, Samardzic, Udogie; Pereyra; Nestorovski.
Doubts: Lovric/Arslan, Samardzic/Thauvic, Nestorovski/Beto.
Injury Report: Beto (back spams) – Probable; Pafundi (shoulder bruise) – Questionable; Deulofeu (knee surgery) – OUT.
The late goal by Dia denied Naples, and really the world, of colossal celebrations for the ages, and it’s mighty weird that one of the most superstitious cities in Italy basically jinxed itself multiple times, but the title is coming, perhaps even before the take the field. The anticipation and tension affected them, as they surely haven’t acted as if they have been here before, since they literally haven’t in over 30 years. They got to the finish line with their tongue sticking out, which will be a valuable lesson for the future.
Ending the title drought is a monumental achievement and partially rewards them for all the instances they came close, often boasting the best style in Italy, only for the evil empire and Il Vento del Nord to beat them, occasionally at the very last corner. Now that’s done, and they have gotten a little more familiar with winning, they shouldn’t settle.
If they retain a couple of pivotal pieces, they have everything in place to open a cycle and compete for the Champions League. That was truly already the case this campaign, as they should have eliminated Milan and would have been favorites against Inter. Any Serie A side would have underdogs in the final, but you never know what could have in a single elimination game. They surely have a few difference-makers that can take center stage when given the chance.
Luciano Spalletti isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of load management, and sticking with the same men for a long time was a low-hanging fruit since they dominated early, but that’s part of the problems that led to the late-season swoon. They’ll also have to improve their backups in a pair of roles to have better depth.
They are the only team already certain to play in Champions League next season, plus they have no debts, so they are in an enviable position, technically and economically. They should definitely use this month to plan way in advance to build an even better squad. The buzz about top director Cristiano Giuntoli going to Juventus might be a hindrance, but they surely have quality personnel underneath him to proceed even before learning his future.
It’s no secret at this point that they landed Khvicha Kvaratskhelia because they stuck with such pursuit for months. The MO probably won’t change, as they’ll look more to unearth gems rather than signing already-established players, with a few select exceptions. The buzz about Victor Osimhen leaving isn’t that loud at this stage and, while they would have a boatload of money to spend if they sold him, much of their future competitiveness at the highest levels hinge on that. He’s still reasonably young, and another year or two in Campania wouldn’t deny him the opportunity of a massive payday at a super-duper club down the line. It’d be a boon for them and the league in general if they ran it back almost wholly.
They’ll have another couple of calls to make, but not as pivotal as the one tied to the Nigerian star. Piotr Zielinski and Hirving Lozano’s contracts are up in 2024, and they are one of the teams that pay the most attention to keeping their payroll low, so the negotiations will be brutal. The chance of a Lorenzo Insigne-like departure could be in the cards, probably more for the former than the latter. They are very nice players but not terribly hard to replaceable. Elijf Elmas is ready to take over as their main creative box-to-box, while there’s a host of pacey wingers on the market that could be more prolific and cheaper annually than the Mexican. In both cases, they’d be able to ease the potential newcomers into the team, which is always advisable.
On top of Osimhen, Kim Min-Jae is the second giant question mark hanging over their heads due to an affordable release clause in his contract that is valid in the first two weeks of July. It’s a reason for concern because doing the trick twice in a row, as he has decisively exceeded expectations as Kalidou Koulibaly’s substitute, would be challenging, although they’d be well-armed with cash in this case too. His agents were very cunning in obtaining a feasible way out. Perhaps this is one of the rare exceptions they should make to their strict wage policy, giving him a new deal and a pay hike before the summer. It would allow them to go into the window with way more ease, although, given the deadline, the matter will be settled reasonably quickly.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Kim, Olivera; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Lozano, Osimhen, Kvaratshkelia.
Doubts: Elmas/Zielinski, Anguissa/Ndombele.
Injury Report: Politano (ankle sprain) – Questionable; Rui (fibular head infraction) – Out.
Napoli Win – Over 2.5 Goals