Serie A: See Naples and get beaten

ANOTHER victory for Napoli, their 17th in 20 Serie A games, has more or less handed the scudetto to Gli Azzurri so much so that even José Mourinho, hardly a defeatist, has congratulated the club on being champions. This is almost unprecedented for only 20 games have been played this season and there are still 18 to go. But 13 points is a substantial cushion for Napoli,  and althoughcan still go wrong, it is increasingly looking as though the residents of the Napoli cemeteries are going to woken from their slumbers for the first time since 1990.

There’s no denying Napoli are just about the most compelling team to watch these days, playing attack-minded football that has yielded 48 goals so far. They are also the only team to maintain consistency – just look at AC Milan, the reigning champions, and their recent form – losing heavily at home to Sassuolo and getting a thrashing from Lazio after they ridiculously travelled to Riyadh for the Super Cup, won by neighbours Inter.

Inter Milan themselves have been careless at times and were recently beaten 1-0 at home to Empoli. They bounced back with victory at Cremonese, but they are not the Inter of two years ago. They have lost too many games and may need some defensive reinforcements. They are, apparently, interested in Manchester United’s Harry Maguire and/or Victor Lindelof.

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It has been a strange season in Italy, though. The nation said farewell to a football legend in Gianluca Vialli and the national team was absent from their second successive World Cup in November/December. Sampdoria, the club where Vialli won the scudetto in 1991, are in serious financial trouble and could be facing bankruptcy. They are also struggling at the foot of Serie A, along with Hellas Verona and Cremonese.

Furthermore, scandal has reared its ugly head once more in Italy, with Juventus suffering a 15-point penalty and it could possibly get worse. But crowds seem to be in the ascendancy with an average of 28,400 overall and 72,000-plus attendances at both Milan clubs and over 60,000 at Roma. Napoli are getting almost 41,000 at their home games. If the Juve issue snowballs, will that affect public appetite for football?

Italian clubs have performed reasonably well in Europe in 2022-23. Of the four Serie A sides in the Champions League, only Juventus failed to win through to the knockout stage, losing five of their six group fixtures. They will face Nantes in the Europa League, alongside Roma, who have been drawn against RB Salzburg. The Champions League sees Inter versus Porto, AC Milan against Tottenham and Napoli playing Frankfurt. With the fine form of Napoli in the competition so far – 20 goals in six games and five wins – could the southern Italians be possible contenders for the most prestigious trophy in European football? Lazio and Fiorentina are in the last 16 of the Europa Conference League and will play FR Cluj and Braga respectively.

Napoli have been relentless since the first week of the campaign, and after beating Juventus 5-1, earned superlative headlines such as “the Napoli hurricane”. Their firepower comes from Victor Osimhen, who has netted 14 goals so far and is the front-runner for the Capocannoniere award for the Serie A top scorer. Osimhen has been in remarkable form and at 24, is undoubtedly on the shopping list of a lot of clubs. He’s valued at € 84 million by Football Benchmark, but he would surely go for closer to € 100 million should Napoli decide to let the Nigerian move on. He’s under contract until June 2025. Napoli’s other star man at present is the 21 year-old Georgian midfielder, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who has contributed more assists than any other player in Serie A this season.

The Juventus domination of the past decade is definitely at an end. If Napoli win the title, it will be the fourth different champion in a row. That has to be good for Italian football, indeed the European game.