Napoli’s Legitimate Title ChallengePosted: October 2, 2011
Napoli have fired a warning shot to the rest of Serie A and the world; that is, that they are genuine title contenders and not to be underestimated.
The Partenopei weren’t dealt the easiest of starts to their league campaign when the fixture list was revealed. In their first five games (disregarding week 1, which was postponed because of the players strike,) they’ve had to play Cesena, champions AC Milan, Chievo, Fiorentina and Inter. Not many punters would have predicted that Chievo would have been the only team to defeat Napoli out of the first five fixtures.
Milan have started slowly this year again, but are by no means an easy side to overcome, as even the greatest team in the world, Barcelona, found out in the Champions League. Edison Cavani led his side from a goal down to a 3-1 victory, and made the champions looking slow and lackluster – much like how Napoli looked against Milan in their encounter at the tail end of last season.
The southern Italians visited Claudio Ranieri’s new Inter team, on the rise after parting ways with Gian Piero Gasperini in gameweek 5. Inter were the clear favourites to take all three points; Ranieri had a 100% record then as Inter manager, Napoli hadn’t won in the San Siro in 17 years and the architect of Napoli’s destruction of AC Milan, Cavani, was ruled out of the game due to a sprained ankle.
Perhaps with some questionable refereeing decisions that led to Obi’s red card, Napoli were put in a very comfortable position to take the three points. Nonetheless, they took Inter apart so professionally, so clinically and so stylishly, you couldn’t help but revel in the beauty of their second and third goals.
The victory shows Napoli’s strength in depth, as they were able to win in the San Siro despite Cavani’s absence. Milan had plenty of strength in depth last year on their way to the Scudetto. When Ibrahimovic was suspended, Clarence Seedorf performed with a lot more assertion, Pato and Robinho were able to step up too, not to mention Antonio Cassano. Goran Pandev stood in for the Uruguayan last night, and the Macedonian is far from a bad replacement.
The Neapolitans had a poor record against the rest of last year’s top four. Two losses to Milan, eventual league winners, two losses to Udinese, 4th place, and one loss and one draw with Inter, 2nd place finishers. This year, in two encounters with these teams, they’ve accumulated 6 points – a perfect record. This could be one of the main differences between the 2010/11 Napoli and the 2011/12 team.
After the win over Inter, Marek Hamsik was quick to play down Scudetto talks, saying it’s too early to be thinking of that just yet. On the other hand, Ezequiel Lavezzi neglected the chance to water the fire of talk about their early Scudetto chances. “The Scudetto? I don’t know, we have to prove our worth game after game, then see where we are at the end.”
If the Azzuri are to win the Scudetto this year, it would only be the third in the history of the club, and first without the great Diego Maradona. It would also be their first since going bankrupt and taken over by Aurelio De Laurentiis in 2004, and would be an outstanding achievement marking how far they’ve come in the past 8 years, rising from Serie C1.