The break for the 2022 World Cup was an annoyance for some European domestic sides. In Italy, the pause was particularly inconvenient considering that the country had failed to qualify for the finals in Qatar.
With many overseas Serie A players still involved in the tournament, the division came to a halt with the teams intriguingly poised. After 15 games, Napoli sat at the top with an impressive eight-point lead over a chasing pack that was headed by AC Milan.
The question is, can Gli Azzurri hold on and claim their first Serie A title since 1990?
A Rollercoaster Ride
Napoli fans had to wait a long time before landing top flight silverware. The club was formed in 1926, but their first Serie A title didn’t come along until the end of the 1986/87 season. It’s no coincidence that the club’s greatest period of success came after the arrival of a certain Diego Maradona.
The brilliant Argentinian headed to Naples from Barcelona in 1984 and, in his seven years with the club, Napoli won two Serie A titles, The Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa Italiana and the UEFA Cup.
Further success has followed in the domestic knockouts, but it’s been more than 30 years since Napoli’s last title success in 1990. They were golden years, but this wasn’t a one-man team. Maradona took to the pitch alongside some illustrious team mates including Careca, Andrea Carnevale, Alemao and Ciro Ferrara.
For many years, Napoli have struggled to build on their legacy, but this season could be different. That eight-point lead at the top of the table gives manager Luciano Spalletti and his side a cushion moving forward, and the team are now odds on favourites in current sports betting markets to win the Serie A title.
Why are Napoli flying so high in such a competitive league? Goals win games and the leading scorer this season is the Nigerian international striker Victor Osimhen. Since signing from Lille in 2020, the young centre forward has shown great promise, but this has been his best start to a campaign with nine goals in 11 league matches.
There has been plenty of support behind the main striker: Georgian international Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has six goals in eight games, while four players have contributed three goals each.
This all adds up to the fact that Napoli are the leading scorers in Serie A. After those first fourteen games, the team had found the net on 37 occasions. Fifth-placed Inter Milan are the next highest scorers with 34.
The team are also keeping things tight at the back. Napoli have conceded just 12 times and only Juventus with seven, and Lazio with 11 have let in fewer goals. First choice goalkeeper Alex Meret will take much of the credit, but it’s been a collective contribution in defence.
In short, it’s been a real team effort this season and everyone in the squad will have a role to play in the run in.
AC Milan sat in second place during the World Cup and they are looking to close that eight-point gap when Serie A resumes. Juventus are a further two points behind with Lazio and Inter Milan locked on 30 points in fourth and fifth place respectively.
These are the only teams with a realistic chance of overhauling the league leaders. Milan may appear to be in the strongest position, but Juve might just be the team to watch. After a poor start to the Serie A season and an early exit from the Champions League, there was talk of the Old Lady firing head coach Massimiliano Allegri.
It would have been a tough decision, but Juventus kept faith with the coach and the move has paid off. Heading into the World Cup break, the Turin giants led the form guide with six straight wins from their six most recent Serie A games.
The good news for Napoli fans is that their team has also won six from six but, if Juventus maintain that form, Spalletti’s men may feel the pressure.
Napoli may have to fight off some unwanted attention when the winter transfer window opens at the start of January. Leading scorer Victor Osimhen is believed to have been a target for a number of European clubs in the recent past, and he’s already being linked with a move away.
Other reports claim that there has been interest in Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Kim Min-jae, but Napoli seem confident that both men will sign new contracts.
The key to winning Serie A may lie in keeping this successful team together. At the very least, Osimhen, Kim and Kvaratskhelia must remain at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium for the remainder of the season, if their Napoli side are going to claim their first title in 23 years.
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