After years of being the nearly-men behind Juventus, it was not to be Napoli but Inter Milan who took the Scudetto away from Turin for the first time in nine years. But this has been an excellent season for Gli Azzurri at any rate, making up for last season’s disappointing seventh-placed finish in Serie A.
That campaign, punctuated by the arrival of Gennaro Gattuso at the club, was salvaged somewhat by a Coppa Italia victory that at least secured Europa League football. While experts offering free betting tips were quick to dismiss Napoli under their new management, fans have gotten used to a steady diet of the Champions League over the last few years. Gattuso leading the side back to the promised land at the first time of asking will be a welcome relief.
Indeed, heading into the Serie A run-in, sports betting oddsmakers placed Napoli as safe as 1/14 for a top-four position. In the final third of the season, Gattuso’s side ripped off a run of one loss in fourteen games to close the gap on the top sides in the division.
Missed Opportunities on the Continent
However, for all their good performances domestically, Gattuso will reflect on what could have been a very different story in Europe. Given the strength of sides in the Europa League this year, Napoli might have expected to be among the contenders making a deep run. Their Round of 32 conquerors, Granada, sit only 10th in La Liga this year and were later torched 4-0 by Manchester United in the quarter-finals.
In the last decade, Napoli have yet to make the quarter-finals of the Champions League. A round of 16 defeats over two legs to Barcelona 4-2 last year, and Real Madrid 6-2 in 2017, have been the apex of their European excursions so far. Not since the legendary Diego Maradona Napoli side won the 1989 UEFA Cup have Napoli brought European silverware back to Campania.
Foundation to Build On
Napoli have equalled the club’s record for the longest run of scoring in consecutive @SerieA_EN matches (24), which was previously set in 1975
The 2021 Napoli side, with Champions League football on the horizon next season, still boast a squad full of attacking talent. An injury-hit campaign for club record scorer Dries Mertens – on the shelf for long spells twice this season with ankle injuries – means Lorenzo Insigne will be rewarded for years of excellent service with his first season as Napoli’s top scorer on 18 league goals.
Indeed, throughout the squad, Napoli have the look of a team that should be challenging for big trophies. Despite years of rumoured interest from elsewhere, Kalidou Koulibaly remains a brick wall in the centre of defence, while Giovanni di Lorenzo has had his best year in a sky blue shirt. Victor Osimhen has also been prolific despite missing time in 2020/21, netting 10 goals in just 14 starts, while Hirving Lozano has 11 to make Napoli the third-top scorers in Serie A heading into the run-in.
After multiple top-four finishes in the last decade, maybe next season Napoli will take after Inter Milan’s example and make their boldest leap yet for the Scudetto.