Napoli and Fiorentina are the form teams in Serie A. The two sides meet after the international break in a match that could shed light on their title aspirations.
Is it a case of “Napoli, Here We Come” and of “Milan, There We Go”? As the campionato makes its second autumnal pit-stop for the Euro 2016 qualifiers, what do we make of Napoli’s emphatic 4-0 destruction job of Milan at the San Siro last night?
Remember, ten days ago Napoli gave an utterly convincing performance when defeating Juventus 2-1 at the San Paolo. Given Juve’s disasterous start to this season (even following a 3-1 win against Bologna yesterday, they are still 12th in Serie A, 10 points behind leaders Fiorentina) critics were understandably reluctant to draw too many conclusions from what had been a more more emphatic victory than the final scoreline would suggest.
Yet, the signs are there that Old Lady Juventus is finally beginning to put her best foot forward, as evidenced above all by two straight Champions League wins against Manchester City and then this week against Sevilla. The idea that Napoli’s defeat of Juventus might be no flash in the pan was certainly underlined by last night’s 4-0 humiliation of Milan.
1-0 down after only 13 minutes, Milan in the end offered only limited resistance being taken to the cleaners by a further three goals in a second half when Napoli risked making the final score 5-0. Reports tell us that Milan’s longtime managing director, Adriano Galliani, had a long phone call with club owner, media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, immediately after the game. To his good fortune, Berlusconi had chosen not to attend at the San Siro last night.
We do not know how Galliani explained the defeat, given that both he and his boss had started off the season reassuring the Milan fans that the opaque displays and poor form of recent seasons would this year be left far behind. One man with a lot of explaining to do is Milan’s Serb coach, Sinisa Mihajlovic. The central defence of Italian-naturalised Brazilian Ely and Colombian Zapata did not impress last night, whilst even one of the (few) success stories of the seaon so far, the attacking combination of Colombian Bacca and Brazilian Luiz Adriano, achieved little. Certainly, Mihajlovic sounded particularly disappointed after the game, saying:
“We lost against the better team…This Milan is only halfway towards being a team, we don’t defend well, we don’t attack well”
The fact that Milan have a lot of rethinking to do should not take from a Napoli side that is beginning to look solid in defence, cautious in midfield and blistering on the “ripartenze” (in English, we would just call them good old fashioned counter-attacks). How solid that defence really is may become clearer when, on the resumption of the league, 5th placed Napoli find themselves in a “title” clash at home to current leaders Fiorentina. This head-to-head between the two most in-form sides in Serie A could prove instructive with a view to the rest of the season.
It is at least arguable that, under Spaniard Rafa Benitez, Napoli rarely delivered on the full potential of a front line that includes such as Argentine Higuain, Spaniard Callejon, Slovak Hamsik, Belgian Mertens and above all Italian Insigne. Bad luck, aided by some indifferent defending, did not help the Benitez Napoli.
What would seem to be the case now is that new coach Maurizio Sarri has tightened up a defence led by Senegalese 24-year-old Kalidou Koulibaly, whilst his Neopolitan roots would appear to have recruited local saint, San Gennaro, to the cause…or so some of the fans would like to believe…
That Napoli v Fiorentina game may also tell us more about Fiorentina, out on top on her own after a 2-0 home win against Atalanta. Fiorentina are now two points clear of Inter (held to a 1-1 away to Sampdoria), three clear of Lazio, six ahead of Napoli, nine ahead of Milan and still 10 clear of Juventus. For the second consecutive Sunday, though, Fiorentina were awarded a penalty in the first five minutes – last week against Inter, this time against Atalanta. Furthermore, this time the offending Atalanta player, Paletta, was sent off for a “last man” foul.
When Atalanta’s experienced coach Edy Reja said afterwards that he would have liked to see how his side would have done 11 against 11 rather than a man down for practically the entire game, he had a point. We have said before that with such as Argentine Roncaglia and Astori in defence, Pole Blaszczykowski, Spaniard Borja Valero and Slovene Ilicic in midfield not to mention Croat Nikola Kalinic in attack, this is a potentially useful unit.
For the time being, Fiorentina’s elegant Portuguese caoch Paulo Sousa continues to play a canny game, on and off the pitch, saying last night:
“The Scudetto? I like to be categoric and honest with you. There are better teams than us in Serie A but we reckon we can compete with them…If we keep on playing like this, we will remain in the (title) battle…Florence believes in us and that gives us a huge boost…”
For the time being, though, on Fiorentina as indeed on this entire Serie A season, the jury is still most definitively out.