Ahead of Napoli vs Lazio, The Laziali’s Jerry Mancini spoke to Joseph Fischetti of the Forza Napoli Podcast to get his thoughts on the Partenopei’s business this past summer, the departure of Gennaro Gattuso, the appointment of Luciano Spalletti, his expectations of the team, and much more.
It was a frustrating season for Napoli under Gennaro Gattuso last year who fell short of qualifying for the Champions League. What were your thoughts on his time with the club? Were you disappointed that Napoli didn’t renew his contract?
I think Gattuso did a job that few other managers are capable of doing in a city like Napoli. He joined a club that was spiralizing out of control and got them back on track. He restored confidence that this group of players was capable of achieving success, which he proved by winning the Coppa Italia.
Unfortunately, Napoli were devastated by injuries in 2020/21 and Gattuso came under quite a bit of pressure from the media. I don’t think the criticism was warranted, but I wasn’t surprised either. Gattuso did not handle the media well amidst speculation that De Laurentiis was in talks with potential replacements. The relationship with De Laurentiis was damaged to the point where even Champions League qualification might not have saved his job. For that reason, I thought the decision not to renew Gattuso was best for both parties.
Napoli announced the signing of Luciano Spalletti this past summer. They were linked to numerous managers and this was a signing that very few Napoli fans anticipated. How did you feel at the time that Spalletti was appointed as manager of Napoli and did you like this move?
I wouldn’t say that few Napoli fans anticipated this move because we were linked to Spalletti when we went through a rough spell in the middle of the season. However, we were linked to a number of managers and there were pros and cons for each one. In Spalletti’s case, the cons were that he had outdated training methods and a history of confrontations with star players (including Francesco Totti at Roma and Mauro Icardi at Inter). The pros were that he was an experienced manager that would undoubtedly be an upgrade from a tactical point of view. Most importantly, he would practically guarantee a top four finish for Napoli.
What would be a successful 2021/22 season for Napoli? What about the expectations for Spalletti’s tenure overall?
The number one goal remains to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. With Napoli’s strong start to the season, many fans are now eyeing the Scudetto, but it’s far too early in the season and the Serie A is far too competitive to be talking about the Scudetto. That said, the Scudetto could well become the goal during Spalletti’s term. The squad is already one of the most talented in the league. When Spalletti joined Napoli, he said he does not need to purchase any players so long as no one was sold, and the results show why. He’s creating a winning culture at Napoli, and there’s no reason to think Napoli shouldn’t at least compete for the scudetto if they stay healthy.
One of the biggest headlines heading into this match is the absence of Victor Osimhen and Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa. How will this impact Napoli moving forward and do you think they will be able to overcome such significant losses to their squad?
Osimhen and Anguissa have been two of Napoli’s most important players this season. With Osimhen’s rare combinations of size, strength, pace, touch and ability to finish, he is impossible to replace. Mertens and Petagna alone will not be able to compensate for what Osimhen provided in terms of offensive productivity. The wingers and attacking midfielders will need to contribute more in attack to offset the loss of Osimhen.
For the price Napoli paid, Anguissa was the signing of the summer. He fit right in and hit the ground running. Perhaps his most important contribution is that he’s allowed Fabian Ruiz the freedom to express himself. Because of Anguissa, Fabian is having one of his best seasons at Napoli. Fortunately, Anguissa will not be out for long, and Napoli have depth at CDM to manage without him. Diego Demme will likely be on the bench having just recovered from COVID-19, which he contracted despite being fully vaccinated. Stanislav Lobotka had an excellent summer training and start to the season. He showed up to summer training fitter than he’s ever been and Spalletti has restored his confidence.
Napoli were planning to play without Osimhen, Anguissa, Koulibaly and Ounas in January due to the Africa Cup of Nations. Ounas has been injured for the last few weeks as well, so three of the four players that would be absent in January will be absent for this match as well. Spalletti is a planner and surely would have already planned for the loss of those players in January. Whatever contingency plan he had devised will need to be implemented with immediate effect.
What are Napoli’s strengths and weaknesses so far? Which players concern you on Lazio that pose a problem for the Partonopei?
Napoli are a very compact team. Generally speaking, the deepest defender and highest attacker are no more than 30 meters apart. Spalletti had greatly improved the team’s movement off the ball, which allows Napoli to play short quick triangles. It also opens up the long ball, which of course is more useful with a player like Osimhen on the pitch, and it provides support to the back line.
Led by il comandante Kalidou Kouibaly, Napoli’s biggest strength is its defense. Even after conceding three goals to Inter, Napoli have still conceded the fewest goals in the league (and by a wide margin). Koulibaly and Rrahmani have developed an excellent partnership, which leaves many to believe Manolas will be sold in the summer. Giovanni Di Lorenzo is a workhorse – he’s played every minute in every competition this season, including for the national team. Mario Rui is Napoli’s biggest weakness at the back, and even he is having a strong season. Finally, David Ospina has made important saves when called upon.
Napoli is successful because the team play as a unit. The wingers drop to help defend and Napoli dominate possession, which means fewer chances and fewer goals for the opposition. Meanwhile, the defenders get forward to support the attack. The full backs play as wing backs, overlapping the winger and enabling the inverted wingers to cut in on their favoured foot. Even the centre backs make the occasional run forward. Napoli’s biggest weakness is a growing dependency on Victor Osimhen goals. That will be tested with the aforementioned injuries.
In terms of Lazio players, four are of particular concern: Ciro Immobile, Felipe Anderson, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto. Despite Napoli stout defense, Immobile has an excellent scoring record against Napoli. If Felipe Anderson starts on the right wing, he will be a nightmare matchup against Mario Rui at left back. Koulibaly will have to drift out of position to cover for Mario Rui, which opens up space for Immobile to attack. Though Alberto had a shaky start under Sarri, he seems to have figured things out, and the combination of Alberto and Milinkovic-Savic is arguably the strongest midfield pair in the league. They can create a lot of problems for Lobotka and Fabian in the midfield.
Which Napoli players that Lazio fans should be concerned about?
Had he been playing, the obvious answer would have been Victor Osimhen. He would have been a nightmare matchup for Acerbi and Luiz Felipe, who simply could not keep up with his pace. As previously mentioned, the rest of the attacking players will have to make up for the absence of Osimhen.
Two players in particular can pose problems for Lazio: Hirving Lozano and Piotr Zielinski. Like with Anderson on Lazio’s right wing, Lozano can pose problems for Elseid Hysaj with his pace on Napoli’s right wing. Zielinski has been in fine form of late and is capable of scoring with both feet.
What is your prediction for Sunday’s game?