Eight victories from eight matches to start this Serie A season, Napoli have gone back in time to the Diego Maradona days.
The clocks have rewound 30 years to when the Argentine football legend was living in Naples. The city’s football club’s flags are flying from the rooftops, bars are filled with Napoli posters and photographs.
During matches, every goal is met with cheers from the balconies as if they were in the stadium itself. Mount Vesuvius is not the only part of Naples that can erupt in this city.
Napoli’s last-gasp victory over Torino kept them top of Serie A with eight wins from eight
There is serious belief that the Partenopei can stay top of Serie A for the rest of the season
In the stadium, now named after the great Maradona himself, it is actually the defensive side of Luciano Spalletti’s side that has fired them to the top of the table. The Partenopei have conceded just once in their home ground all season and just thrice since the beginning of the season – home or away.
But there is a Napoli icon going forward in the form of Victor Osimhen, who is now finding his feet at the club after a transitional opening season last term.
The Nigerian, who netted a late winner in a 1-0 win over Torino on Sunday, has five goals this season and has been described as a ‘monster of the penalty area’ by head coach Spalletti.
Victor Osimhen is the new talisman at Napoli to step into the shoes of the late Diego Maradona
That victory over Torino means Napoli have made the joint-best start to a league season in their history. The last time the Partenopei managed eight wins from eight came in the 2017-18 season under Maurizio Sarri – and they ended that campaign on 95 points.
But Napoli can become record breakers next week and what a cathedral they could achieve that feat in. Defeat Jose Mourinho’s Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday and Spalletti will become the first manager in the club’s history with nine wins to start the season.
Comparisons between Sarri and Spalletti’s Napoli sides are bound to be made given their identical starts to the campaign – but the two teams are most definitely different.
Luciano Spalletti is the mastermind behind Napoli’s rise after just two months in the role
Sarri’s Napoli side of 2017-18 was three years in the making. Spalletti, meanwhile, has managed to turn around the mess left behind by Gennaro Gattuso in just two months.
Sarri’s side from four years ago also scored more goals: 26 in eight games compared to just 19 for Spalletti’s Napoli, who are more defensively robust and structured in style.
The Napoli of old also was reliant on a front three of Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon, who scored 36 Serie A goals between them that season. Spalletti’s Napoli have a player in Osimhen who could dominate the scoring charts on his own.
Napoli last topped Serie A with eight wins from eight when Maurizio Sarri (right) was manager
His winner against Torino was nearly record-breaking. The Nigerian forward leapt 2.52 meters in the air, just a few centimetres shy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s historic jump against Sampdoria for Juventus.
That goal alone shows his desire to return Napoli to the top of Italian football after three decades, but Spalletti is keeping the 22-year-old’s head firmly on the ground.
‘He is a very strong player who is going through a good period of form,’ the Napoli boss said after the Torino win. ‘But what is fundamental to see is that he is improving in things where he did not give importance before. He is becoming more complete, he is a very strong player.’
Osimhen’s leap for his Torino winner nearly broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s Serie A jump record
Another key difference between Sarri and Spalletti’s Napoli team is Lorenzo Insigne, the talismanic winger who shone under the former Partenopei boss but is flopping slightly under the latter.
The 30-year-old’s contract expires in June 2022 and appears to be crumbling under the pressure of captaining the Serie A leaders. Insigne has now missed four out of his last six penalties for Napoli, including three already this season, leaving Napoli unsure as to whether they want to keep their skipper for next season.
It is a dilemma that is troubling Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, with Inter Milan discussing how feasible it would be to take Insigne, one of Italy’s Euro 2020 heroes, away from the club he has spent his entire senior career at.
The form of Lorenzo Insigne (above) is the only downside to Spalletti’s Napoli this season
Insigne has missed three penalties this season and the Napoli captain’s contract ends soon
Inter chief executive Bepe Marotta is keen on the deal and time is running out for Napoli to make a decision on Insigne, as the winger can negotiate a pre-contract agreement with any club from January 1.
But hope is not lost for an Insigne future at Napoli. Spalletti wants to keep him on penalties to boost his confidence, despite the vast number of other credible penalty takers at the club, including Osimhen, Hirving Lozano and Fabian Ruiz.
Spalletti joked after Insigne missed a spot kick in the Torino win: ‘The next penalty will be scored by Insigne, the next one will be Lorenzo’s, then the captain (Insigne again) will take care of it after that.’
But bigger things are going on than Insigne’s future – Napoli are rising again.