Year Of The Underdog: Can Napoli Go All The Way In The Champion League?
Written By Jacobs Dunga
Luciano Spalletti has proved this term that his Napoli side are capable of matching any European side.
Founded on August 25th, 1905, Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli play in the top tier of Italian football and currently sit atop the standings with twenty six matches of the season gone where they enjoy a twenty point gap over their closest rival.
If their league run have been impressive, then their exploits in the UEFA Champions League can be termed as historic. Of all four Italian teams that entered the Champions League in the 2022/2023 season, only the Azzurri finished top of their group which had multiple winners Liverpool and Ajax Amsterdam.
Luciano Spalletti engineered his side to win all but one of their group games one which was an inconsequential encounter against English giants Liverpool with qualification and top spot already secured.
Napoli scored twenty group stage goals which is a record for Italian clubs and conceded just six en route a place in the knockouts. The Partenopei made light work of Europa League holders Eintracht Frankfurt in the round of sixteen as they posted a 5-0 aggregate victory over their German counterparts to book a place in the last eight for the first time in the club’s history where they will now face off against local rivals AC Milan.
With the Scudetto almost secured, Napoli’s focus should be on making history in the Champions League with their route to the final looking promising than ever.
Summer recruit, Kim Min Jae has established his presence as the commander of the backline while Stanislav Lobotka’s renaissance has helped to fortify the engine room of Luciano Spalletti’s setup.
The sensational Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has formed a bond in attack with the ever prolific Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen who has spearheaded the team’s goalscoring department.
Slick passing, effective transition, productivity, discipline, Unity and shrewd coaching are the characteristics of this record breaking team under the watchful eyes of Spalletti who has transformed the fortunes of a side that was a top four chasing side at best.
The last outsider to win the Champions League was Chelsea in 2012 when after the sacking of Andre Villa Boas, went all the way to lifting the trophy after they defeated Bayern Munich on penalties in the final.
Napoli are another side since that all conquering Chelsea side of Roberto Di Matteo to be primed for Champions League success outside the traditional winners.
With some fun-facts such as both teams sharing the same nickname (The Blues), having an African striker (Didier Drogba for Chelsea in 2012, Victor Osimhen for Napoli) and coaches of the same nationality, It could just be another year where we witness a new winner in the Champions League.
Standing in the way of a Napoli history is the second most successful club in the history of the competition, AC Milan. The Rossoneri could pose a difficult nut to crack for Napoli but it is definitely a more doable task than a match up against any of Spanish or German teams in the other pool.
Not since 2018/2019 has Napoli won at home to AC Milan and that’s as also the last time they edged the Rossoneri over two legs. Spalletti understands the task before him and must specially set up his boys as they go head to head against a side they’ve already beaten away from home this season albeit unceremoniously.
“I preferred not to meet an Italian side.” Spalletti told Radio Kiss Kiss following the draws for the last eight.
“Milan feel at home in the Champions League, they have won the competition seven times, second only to Real Madrid,” the Napoli coach continued.
“Needless to say that their director Paolo Maldini alone has won five.
The comments above from the Napoli boss means he understands the level of challenge that’s sits them in the last eight when they take to the field against Milan.
Their ability to score goals with reckless abandonment which has been the symbol of the side will be greatly pivotal in their quest to rewrite the history of the tournament.
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All that Spalletti needs to so is maintain the spirit in the team and ensure that no room for even marginal errors is left for his opponents to pounce on. Should be overcome Milan, a date with the winners of the tie between highflying Benfica and domestic rivals Inter Milan awaits.
The sensational form of Kvaratskhelia and the physical presence of Osimhen coupled with Lobotka’s composure in front of Min Jae’s dictatorship could be the combination that will help the city of Naples enter the history books of elite European club football.
With continued discipline and determination, this Napoli side can go all the way to becoming the first outsider since Chelsea in 2012 to lift the coveted Champions League trophy.
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