After a thumping victory on the opening day, Napoli tackle their first home fixture of the Serie A season as they welcome Monza to Stadio Maradona on Sunday.
Having found the net five times in Verona – each time through a different scorer – the Partenopei are primed to meet a promoted side who have been ambitious in the transfer market.
The start of a new era got under way with a bang last weekend, as new-look Napoli displayed some familiar traits in pulling apart Hellas Verona at Stadio Bentegodi.
Having parted ways with club legends Dries Mertens, Kalidou Koulibaly and Lorenzo Insigne, the Campanian club refreshed their squad over the summer break, after falling by the wayside deep into their challenge to end a 32-year Scudetto drought – and one of the new boys had an almost immediate impact; setting the ball rolling on a 5-2 win.
Georgian winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scored a 37th-minute equaliser for his new club, before four other Napoli names were added to the scoresheet, including star striker Victor Osimhen, who seems set to continue his fine form from the end of last season.
In his last 10 league games, Osimhen has been directly involved in 11 goals, with an impressive tally of eight goals and three assists to his name – re-establishing the Nigeria international as the Azzurri’s go-to man.
Though they eventually finished seven points adrift of eventual champions Milan last term, Luciano Spalletti has so far averaged 2.1 points per game with Napoli in Serie A; only Maurizio Sarri (2.27) can boast a better rate in the three points-per-win era.
The former Roma coach has been busy strengthening his hand in the latter stages of the transfer window, with some new additions arriving in Naples this week, so he will expect to take care of business against a side fresh from Serie B – no matter the size of their ambition.
Given the gulf between them and Napoli throughout much of the clubs’ existence, Monza have rarely taken on their southern counterparts in competitive matches. Indeed, their last meeting dates back to January 2000, in Serie B, when Sunday’s hosts were in the doldrums amid deep financial strife.
In the past few years, though, a lot has changed for the Biancorossi, and in May they came through the promotion playoffs in dramatic style to reach the top tier for the first time – they now aim to make a big impact, but their Serie A debut did not go entirely to plan.
Monza were beaten 2-1 by Torino in their first fixture, with Dany Mota‘s stoppage-time strike at least giving the expectant home fans something to cheer about, while Giovanni Stroppa blooded some of his numerous new signings, including Gianluca Caprari, Pablo Mari and former Napoli striker Andrea Petagna.
Curiously, the Lombardy side fielded the most Italian players in their starting XI of any team across the opening weekend (eight) – at least three more than any other – which would surely have pleased co-owner Silvio Berlusconi, whose influence remains strong at Stadio Brianteo.
Stroppa did not include Italy international trio Alessio Cragno, Stefano Sensi and Matteo Pessina – the latter installed as club captain following his arrival from Atalanta – but could perhaps use their experience for the challenge that lies ahead: Monza must tackle Napoli, Roma and Juventus by mid-September.
Six of the last seven Serie A newcomers have lost both of their first two top-flight games, so Stroppa’s side will be up against precedent, too, when they step out at the Maradona.
After a winning start, Luciano Spalletti has an almost fully fit squad available for Napoli’s first home game of the 2022-23 campaign, though Adam Ounas has been laid low by gastroenteritis, Diego Demme has a foot injury, and Fabian Ruiz continues to train separately as he seeks to leave the club.
The Spain midfielder is bound for Paris Saint-Germain if a deal can finally be agreed, but Tanguy Ndombele has already arrived on loan from Tottenham to replace him, joining Giovanni Simeone as one of two new buys who should start on the bench. Giacomo Raspadori may soon sign from Sassuolo, too.
Up front, Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will be accompanied by Hirving Lozano, who created five chances from open play last weekend (three of which were for Kvaratskhelia) – a league-high performance for the opening round.
Meanwhile, Monza are still seeking to blend 17 summer signings into their promotion-winning squad, with former Inter pair Andrea Ranocchia and Stefano Sensi both hoping to start on Sunday.
Matteo Pessina will feature in midfield if the new skipper can win his fight for fitness, while ex-Napoli forward Andrea Petagna aims to continue his career trend of scoring against the Azzurri.
The latter has found the net three times in six games against them in Serie A, including the last time he visited Naples as an opposition player, in June 2020 with SPAL.
Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Di Lorenzo, Kim, Rrahmani, Rui; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Lozano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia
Monza possible starting lineup:
Di Gregorio; Marlon, A. Ranocchia, Mari; Birindelli, Valoti, Barberis, Pessina, Augusto; Petagna, Caprari