How many reasons do the doubters have left to believe that Napoli can’t fight for the Serie A title this season?
The debates that most often rattle around do make sense; the Partenopei got off to a similarly flying start last season before collapsing in the spring, while there is no saying what impact a mid-season World Cup will have on their momentum.
But watching this team right now, those arguments go out the window. They just give you a feeling. A feeling that they can – and will – be among the challengers in an evenly balanced field of title contenders.
Napoli have now won 11 games in a row in all competitions for the first time since 1986 (then split over two campaigns), while they’ve gone unbeaten in their first six away games for a second consecutive season for the first time since that same period: 1986/87-1987/88.
If 1986/87 is ringing a bell, it’s for good reason – that was the year Diego Maradona inspired the Neapolitans to their first Serie A title.
And while no member of this Napoli squad would claim to be anywhere near on par with the Argentinian great, the strength of their collective shone through in Rome with Victor Osimhen’s astonishing impact on his first start since returning from injury.
Napoli have danger everywhere
The sight of the Nigeria international limping off against Liverpool in the Champions League in early September left Napoli fans worried.
But their concerns soon evaporated when Giacomo Raspadori and Giovanni Simeone hit top form in his absence; the pair have nine goals between them this season.
The performances of Raspadori in particular had some asking how easily Osimhen would re-take his starting spot up front, but the 23-year-old has quickly silenced such thoughts.
Osimhen came off the bench to score against both Ajax and Bologna, before bamboozling Chris Smalling and dispatching an unstoppable angled half-volley to clinch a 1-0 victory over Roma on his first start since facing Jurgen Klopp’s side.
The Nigerian has come back looking as ferociously strong, powerful and clinical as ever, underlining the outstanding abundance of options Luciano Spalletti has in attack.
With Osimhen, Raspadori and Simeone vying for the striker spot, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Hirving Lozano and Matteo Politano contributing a combined 14 goals from the wing so far and trequartista Piotr Zielinski enjoying a productive season (4 goals, 6 assists), there are dangers everywhere.
What’s more, it’s hard to see the World Cup impacting them too badly.
Italy’s botched qualification efforts for Qatar 2022 mean that many Serie A sides won’t be as badly hit as they might have feared by the exhausting efforts required by a mid-season World Cup.
But Napoli look like they will be less impacted than their major rivals.
Mathias Olivera (Uruguay), Kim Min-Jae (South Korea), Hirving Lozano (Mexico) and Zielinski (Poland) are likely to be involved, but key men like Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia, Raspadori, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Franck-Zambo Anguissa and Stanislav Lobotka won’t.
It’s a big difference to Napoli’s current closest title rivals AC Milan, who could have around 11 players away for the World Cup – some of whom will be hoping to go deep into the competition.
Inter could lose around eight players, Juventus 11, AS Roma six and Atalanta five. The only big team likely to have fewer players than Napoli in Qatar is Lazio, who are set to lose only Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Matias Vecino.
The more nervous Napoli fans out there will want to halt all talk of 1986 comparisons right now, and just enjoy the ride as their team sweeps all opponents aside.
But they have strength in depth, an immense attacking arsenal and unstoppable momentum. They have the chance to rest several key players before the second half of the season while their rivals add more games to tired legs. This could well be their year.