Serie A report: Scudetto Napoli will lose, special Kvaratskhelia and sorry Sampdoria

Maurizio Sarri would rather walk his dog Ciro or buy a John Fante novel.

“I will not watch the World Cup,” he said. “I’m too pissed about what the Qatar host has done to the fixture list.”

The Lazio coach’s smoking habit hasn’t dampened it.

“I see it as an insult to football. If someone is able to explain to me what the Qataris have done for football, apart from their investment in PSG, I might change my mind.

Sarri’s counterpart at Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri, was more diplomatic.

“I am a coach and when they tell me to play, we play. When they tell us to stop, we stop. It’s not like we can do anything about it anyway.

It was like that in the spring of 2021 when the season was interrupted for three months by the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience still fresh in memory and undoubtedly useful to the medical services and physical trainers of the clubs.

Old plans for an abbreviated second pre-season will come in handy again next month, although no one can predict what effect this break will have on the flow of Serie A.

Napoli are eight points clear and running away with the Scudetto so much that having a World Cup now doesn’t seem so out of place. The title race seems done and dusted off even if there are still almost two thirds of the season to play.

So why did the Gazzetta dello Sport declare: “It’s not over” on Monday?

Well, third-placed Juventus have won six league games in a row. Inter Milan, fifth, took 18 points from 21.

And the champions, the closest challengers to Naples?

“Of course we still believe in it,” AC Milan technical director Paolo Maldini said after their stoppage time win over Fiorentina on Sunday. “Last February we entered the Derby della Madonnina seven points behind Inter and we managed to win the championship. We know that it will not be easy to maintain this pace until the end of the season. season.

After all, history is not on Milan’s side. Nobody with such a lead after 15 games has managed to win the title.

It sometimes seemed very easy for Napoli. Too easy. They were 3-0 up again within an hour on Saturday before the next World Cup and the winter break allowed a level of complacency to set in. Udinese then scored twice and nearly left Diego Armando Maradona with just one point to miss.

“It doesn’t take much for everything to change,” said Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti. But his team never ceases to surprise him. They saw complicated games, won away against Milan, Roma and Atalanta, faced injuries to Amir Rrahmani, Andre-Frank Anguissa, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen.

“Napoli only lost four points,” observed Allegri. “They could potentially finish the first half of the season with 53 points, which means nobody wins the league this season with less than 90 points.”

Perhaps the Serie A record of 102, set by Antonio Conte in his 2013-14 farewell season at Juventus before taking the Italy job, is in jeopardy.

Advanced metrics show Napoli outperforming their xG, but they still top Serie A in terms of xG difference and other key performance indicators.

Beyond Napoli, hope rests in Inter’s victory over Spalletti’s men at the San Siro in the clubs’ first match after the World Cup and the winter break on January 4. Psychologically, it would be interesting to see how Napoli would react if that happened.

Competition is also expected to be stiffer in 2023. Juventus will regularly have ‘new January signings’ such as Paul Pogba and Federico Chiesa in the squad. Milan could yet rediscover the defensive solidity that underpinned the title win last season, while summer signing Charles de Ketelaere has more to give.

The Champions League knockout stage could also throw a spanner in the works of Napoli – the last two Serie A champions had left this competition in the group stages and were able to focus on domestic affairs in the second half of the season.

And yet Napoli seem elusive.

Spalletti has already won championships, in 2010 and 2012 with the Russian Zenith Saint Petersburg. He also led Roma to a club-record 87 points in his final season six years ago, a tally (obscured by Francesco Totti’s retirement drama) that would have been enough to win the Scudetto over the course of two of the last three years.

Osimhen currently leads the scoring charts with nine (and would become the third Capocannoniere to play under Spalletti) while the defense was the stingiest in Italy last term with 31 conceded.

This begs the question: should the league even return after Christmas?

Joking aside, Napoli exceeded expectations and Kvaratskhelia was the signing of the season by far after his move from Dinamo Batumi to home Georgia, with honorable mentions for teammate Kim Min-jae, Roma’s Paulo Dybala and Atalanta . Ademola Lookman.

Right now, it would be surprising if this season’s final top four were different from last year’s.

Atalanta have lost four of their last five games. Roma are already too dependent on Dybala and fly to Japan for a winter training winless in three league matches, including a defeat in the Rome derby, and with Jose Mourinho in purge mode.

Nevertheless, four points is all that separates Juventus from Roma in seventh position. The league is bunched up in some places and stretched out in others. Napoli are in a league of their own, but six teams are in contention for Europe. Ten are in no man’s land in the middle of the table and the last three are already adrift.

Whatever your belief, the fate of two former champions, Verona and Sampdoria, in the latter category and with only five and six points respectively after 15 matches is desperately sad.

Both clubs could be content to find a buyer during the winter and need to take inspiration from Salernitana’s great escape last season.

Unfortunately, Serie A’s Harry Houdini Davide Nicola is unavailable to try and save them.

His next trick was to turn Salernitana into a side that could finish in the top half of the table. They are 12th, two points behind Fiorentina, 10th. Nicola picked up where he left off after losing just one of the last eight games in 2021-22 and would have been more talked about if he hadn’t already done the impossible last season.

Sampdoria are having a terrible season and seem destined for downfall (Photo: Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Along with Napoli and Udinese, Salernitana must classify as the team of the season so far, with wing-back Pasquale Mazzocchi establishing himself in an Italian squad that unfortunately won’t be at the World Cup.

Roberto Mancini will preside over friendlies against fellow non-qualifiers Albania and Austria over the next fortnight, and after helping Wilfried Gnon become the national team’s youngest ever goalscorer in Turned 18 this summer, he hasn’t finished yet. .

True to his style, he brought in 16-year-old Udinese playmaker Simone Pafundi after his performances with the Under-17s (four goals and two assists in five appearances).

Born in March 2006, Pafundi was less than four months old when Fabio Cannavaro won the World Cup in Berlin. It will only be 20 years old when the United States, Canada and Mexico co-host its next edition.

It’s still absurd that Italy are not in Qatar, their second missed World Cup in a row.

Napoli’s start to the season, the prospect of Italy having their fourth different champions in as many years and the teetering Kvaratskhelia proved a welcome distraction, as did crises at Juventus and Inter.

But now the World Cup is upon us and Serie A cannot return soon enough.

(Top photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

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