Napoli Pose Early Threat To Juventus In Serie A

By Michael Ottolenghi


Goalfests galore. That could be the tagline for the first few weeks of the Serie A season, as after six games played the league’s top scorer, Juventus’ Paolo Dybala, already has ten goals to his name, while Napoli’s 22 goals so far are the most scored by any team in the first six games of the season in over 50 years.  


Add in Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, who has scored 11 goals in all competitions (of which 8 in Serie A), and Italian football’s image as a snorefest may need a rethink.


The other accusation levelled against Serie A of late has been its predictability, particularly at the top of the table, with Juve’s six successive titles not making for much excitement. But even that may be starting to change, not necessarily because of any weakening of Juventus, but instead because Napoli appear to be emerging as realistic title rivals.


Both teams are joint top of the table on 18 points, with Inter a further two points behind on 16, Lazio on 13 and Roma and Milan on 12.


Napoli’s firepower is impressive, although they have just lost striker Akradiusz Milik to yet another knee problem that will keep him out for upto 4 months.  Their main man Dries Mertens will therefore need a reprieve, particularly as Champions League fixtures start coming thick and fast.


Napoli should not be troubled this Sunday, though, as they host Cagliari at the San Paolo. Manager Maurizio Sarri will need to keep his players motivated in what looks like an easy game on paper, while Juve face a sterner test away to Atalanta on the same day.


The champions will be favourites to win the game, as they are coming off an emphatic 4-0 win against Torino in the Turin derby and Paolo Dybala is in the best goalscoring form of his career. Atalanta are no longer the surprise package they were last season, and manager Giampiero Gasperini is still experimenting with his side following the departure of a number of key players over the summer. But with talismanic captain Papu Gomez up front and a resounding 3-0 win against Everton on the club’s return to European competition after an absence of 26 years, Atalanta will not be a pushover.


The biggest game of the round will take place at San Siro, as Milan host Roma in a matchup of teams that have not quite delivered on their promise so far.


Milan’s summer reconstruction has been well documented, with a whole new starting 11 at the disposal of manager Vincenzo Montella.  Montella is a good young manager with a proven track record, but has found it difficult to live up to the unrealistic expectations created by the club’s Chinese owners, egged on by the Italian media. Impressive performances have been followed by insipid ones, with players who look like world beaters in one game appearing completely out of their depth in the next. The 2-0 loss to Sampdoria last Sunday was a good example of the club’s inconsistencies, with the strikers drawing a blank and promising midfielder Frank Kessie one of the worst players on the pitch.


That unfortunate combination of unrealistic expectations and an overenthusiastic media have reportedly led to crisis talks between Montella and the club hierarchy, with the two next games against Roma and Inter seen as crucial to the manager’s survival. As ludicrous as that sounds, Montella will have to fashion a response against Roma, starting with a way to stop the prolific Edin Dzeko.


The Bosnian forward is continuing to flourish in Rome, and the departure of both Francesco Totti and Mohamed Salah over the summer has liberated him to be the main man for new manager Eusebio Di Francesco.  Dzeko is averaging a goal a game in the league so far, and has started to display a good understanding with Stephan El Sharaawy: the two of them scored all of the goals in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Udinese, with El Sharaawy scoring two goals to vindicate Di Francesco’s belief in him.