The arrogant football of Napoli
Always the same, but always unpredictable and above all always ferocious: the strength of Spalletti's wonderful team lies in never holding back. And now he can dream of a sensational brace
Handsome, cheeky and cheeky, with the pride of never having made calculations and the temptation of being able to afford the luxury of starting to do them. The strength of the wonderful Napoli this season lies in never having spared itself, and on the only occasion in which he did so he paid the price against all odds: it was a stormy night on Maradona, frozen not only by the pouring rain but also by the unexpected turnaround of Cremonese, in the Italian Cup. In the era of turnover, reserves made to play with the sling bar in the cups so as not to see long faces in the locker room, Luciano Spalletti has practically always gone straight on his own way: if there is a team in our Serie A that can boast a line-up that can be recited like a nursery rhyme, as was done in football in other eras, this is Napoli. And this is how he dictated the law in Italy, with a fresh, European, proactive, never giving up game: wanting to use an ancient definition by Walter Sabatini, it is an arrogant football, which feeds on the outbursts of an Osimhen whose central role goes well beyond goals. Not that they spoil, of course, but the Nigerian is also the healthy bearer of those sometimes decisive emotional jolts in the economy of matches that could also slip into the precipice of boredom or predictability: teammates and fans feed on his desire to always go vertical and to jump higher than the direct opponent, rivals must instead constantly play to the maximum of their possibilities in order not to expose themselves to distractions that would have the flavor of a death sentence. The blue team travels following the breath of this center forward ferociously leaning towards victory, absorbing his energies and pouring them onto the pitch, overpowering opponents who increasingly find themselves acting as modest sparring partners.
A Naples that is always the same and yet always unpredictable: you look at Kim and you no longer think of Koulibaly, you see Di Lorenzo play and you discover an influence in the game that recalls that of the most modern and appreciated full-backs in Europe. Anguissa and Lobotka travel by heart, Zielinski seems the least effective at this stage of the season, but he knows well that he has an Elmas behind him who is always ready to make an impact and for this reason he can no longer afford those long pauses that have stemmed his definitive explosion in the last few years. A nursery rhyme, in fact, with the main unknown factor represented by the eleventh shirt to be assigned, the one that in the seventies would have fallen to number 7, the right wing: Politano or Lozano, Lozano or Politano. On the other hand, there are those of 7 who have two on their shoulders: the football at times primordial from Kvaratskhelia is unreadable for the defenders, who now flee and retreat moved by a sacred fear of dribbling, however exposing themselves to stacker skills that they can no longer be silenced. Those who have to face it try to choose the lesser evil, if there is one. Spalletti wins because his Napoli always attacks, with solid principles and methods of application that can vary: Osimhen who goes to see what is behind the defensive line, using a concept dear to the coach, or who waits in the center of the area for a cross calibrated for its overflowing elevation; Kvaratskhelia who seems to be in perfect control of every aspect of the match, giving the team what they need based on their needs; Anguissa who presses or stalls, attacks or manages.
Even the most superstitious square in Italy is now only counting the days until the Scudetto, but what perhaps few would have imagined is that the highway to Istanbul could only have to pass through Italy: the intersection with Milan in the quarterfinals in the final, therefore, in case of qualifying, the one with the winner of Inter-Benfica. Looking at the canyon that has been created in the standings, it is hard to remember that the only precedent of the season between Spalletti and Pioli had been resolved, after 78 minutes of back and forth, by a lightning header from Simeone. It was a more balanced match than the gap suggests now, and who knows if Napoli will live this decisive phase of their European campaign without making calculations, as they have done up to now, or will be seduced by the use of gears to preserve an engine that up to now has shown no sign of letting up. The gap in terms of the Scudetto is such as to justify conservative reasoning, but the beauty of Napoli this year also lies in their desire to face every match as if it were their last: he could have tried to manage the second leg match against Eintracht, instead he bit his rival in the jugular, without even giving the Germans a chance to breathe.
It will be complicated weeks especially on a mental level, because what seemed impossible a few months ago is now an extremely current concept: Napoli will not only win the Scudetto, but can dream of reaching the bottom of the Champions League. Spalletti has already smelled the climate, the compliments that hide more or less obvious provocations: for this reason he raises his voice when he hears Guardiola move the spotlight from his Manchester City, a creature shaped by resounding millions, to direct them towards a Naples that is instead the masterpiece of ideas. "This is a little game that everyone knows, they lift you up because they know you have to fall", he warned with a penetrating gaze and a firm tone of voice: salient features of an angular and rigid character, forged by the cult of work as the only star polar. At these levels, Napoli is essentially a novelty: they had never reached the quarter-finals and yet, thinking about it, it is difficult to trace a loose cannon in the past capable of seeming in such a concrete way a credible pretender, at least for reaching the final. The Champions League is the competition of details, as José Mourinho loves to repeat: if Napoli continue to dominate them, without being confused by all the background noise that is going around them, they will be able to continue to shine.