"Vedi Napoli e poi muori". It’s a famous expression in Italy and a lot of other countries. It literally means "see Naples and then die". Let’s hope that won’t be the case of AS Roma tomorrow evening when the Giallorossi host a red hot Napoli at the Olimpico.
Of course the saying doesn’t refer to the football club, but the (beautiful) city of Naples. According to Italians long time ago, it was heaven on earth, mostly thanks to its beautiful bay and the volcano Vesuvius close by. A lovely piece of nature and the erratic city life, molded into one. Chaos and Peace, living together. You had to see Naples once in your lifetime, before you could rest in peace.
Luckily for me and my life expectancy, I visited Naples back in 2007. I stayed at a hotel just outside the center, in a town called Sorrento. It was a trip to remember (food, women, water, sun etc.) but nothing compared to my stay in Rome. Then again, I always had a special bond with the Eternal City since I was little.
Anyway, back to the future: October, 2017. After an international break, Serie A returns with all its bad referee decisions, VAR discussions, obligated Juventus penalty and horrible designed jerseys, well some of them at least. This weekend turns out to be quite the parade. The entire top six (bar Torino) will play each other. There’s the derby in Milan and Juve-Lazio (by far my two most-hated teams in Italy).
Our eyes and ears will be focused on Roma-Napoli though. Two teams in great form, two teams who had an amazing September month. Roma won five games in a row (all competitions, scoring fifteen goals in the process. Napoli did even better and are still flawless in Serie A, 21/21 and a whopping 25 goals scored. They are nearing Roma’s record established under Rudi Garcia back in 2013. His side won the first ten opening games of the season, only two of those were with a one goal difference. Damn Rudi, you were a stud back in the day!
Yet, this current Roma side is a very different beast. Basically the same formation (4-3-3) but with a young Italian trainer at the helm and a whole lotta different players. Although there has been an injury crisis, the depth of this squad is much better than in previous seasons. Roma are surprisingly second in their CL group and hold their own among the big boys in Serie A. Surely a great start for Eusebio but the real tests are about to begin. After Napoli, Roma face a daunting trip to Chelsea and a tricky one to Torino next weekend.
So, Napoli. What hasn’t been said yet about Sarri’s machine? Mertens, Insigne, Hamsik, Callejon, Zielinski, Ghoulam, Jorginho, Koulibaly... There’s so much talent in their team it’s ridiculous. They have been playing outrageously since March or so and have looked unstoppable most of the times. I’d say it’s an even bigger challenge than Inter or Atletico. It’s also a match-up between two of Juve’s main rivals for the Scudetto. They don’t come bigger than this and thank God for Roma, the first battle is on our home turf. Which doesn’t mean a lot I’m afraid. Napoli won all of their 4 away games so far and scored 13 goals in those. Yikes.
Why do they call Napoli a machine? Because their chemistry on the field is amazing and Sarri uses mostly the same pool of 14-15 players. They find each other blindfolded on the pitch and score one goal after another. Mertens as a striker has been a revelation while Insigne always was a class act. Reina is a more than decent keeper and Koulibaly a rock in defense. Zielinski and Hamsik produce the magic in midfield.
Is there really no weak point? Well, it took a long time to think of one, that’s for sure. Their attack and midfield are stacked, but the defense could be exploited. The man who starts next to Koulibaly (Albiol, Chichires or Maksimovic) should be targeted by Perotti, Dzeko and co. Hysaj and Ghoulam, the fullbacks, are tough but I reckon Florenzi, Kolarov or Peres can do some damage on the flanks if, and that’s a big IF, they are on fire tomorrow evening.
Napoli have very few injuries, another part of that incredible machine, and Sarri will have a full squad at his disposal. Something Eusebio can only dream off. Roma has a fair share of injured personnel and players who are still not 100% or shaking of small injuries. SES, Strootman, Defrel, Emerson and Schick will all miss the game. That’s three certain starters and two valuable substitutes gone missing.
Luckily there’s more than enough quality left on the pitch to make the life of Sarri difficult. Alisson, Manolas, Daniele and Kolarov must hold down the fort, Radja and Pellegrini must make war in midfield and Dzeko will do what he does best: Score from all possible angles. A rejuvenated Florenzi, who’s playing on his favorite position once again, is a huge plus too.
Napoli will want to keep their winning streak going and dream of a first title since 1990. They won’t back down so easily. Roma can’t risk a shabby start or they’ll be down 0-1 before they even know it. It seems almost impossible but Manolas and Fazio/Jesus must keep Mertens and Insigne at bay for as long as possible, so they get frustrated and even desperate. If Peres starts on the right, he’ll need to play his best game in a Roma shirt. Nothing less. Let’s hope Pellegrini recovers in time and Perotti isn’t invisible for an hour.
Whatever the outcome may be, the Scudetto or CL spots won’t be decided just yet. However, Roma can send out a signal like they did in Milan. That they’re able to defeat the best teams in Italy and have no intention of letting go of Napoli, Juve and Inter. "We’re Roma and we also have a say in this! We won’t be walkovers and we will endure!"
Or in the famous words of Rage Against The Machine: "F*ck you, I won't do what you tell me!"