MILAN (AFP) – If Napoli’s players are looking over their shoulders as they kick off the weekend’s Serie A fixtures with a visit to struggling Empoli, it should be not at the distant chasing pack but at coach Luciano Spalletti.
Napoli head into today’s game having won seven straight in Serie A.
Their hosts are winless in their last four games. Victory would put Napoli 18 points clear of the chasing pack before their pursuers have even played.
After Napoli continued their dream season with a 2-0 victory in Frankfurt on Tuesday in a Champions League round-of-16 first leg, Spalletti responded to questions about whether his team were already through to the quarter-finals by laying out a philosophy that applies equally to the league campaign.
“If I see my plyers thinking like that when we get home this evening, they won’t play,” he said. “Conceit is the worst fault in players. We have to stay calm, very calm.”
But, the grim-faced coach added: “I’m happy, even if I don’t smile.”
After years of agonising collapses and near misses, Napoli seem to be cruising to their first Italian title since Diego Maradona led them to their only two titles in 1988 and 1990.
If they complete the job against Frankfurt, Napoli will reach the last eight of the Champions League for the first time.
They have dropped just seven points in 23 matches in Serie A. They have the best attack and the best defence.
No wonder the players and the fans who support them at the Diego Armando Stadium are excited.
“At the beginning of the season almost no one thought we could get to certain levels, the team is playing a beautiful game,” backup striker Alessio Zerbin told Italian radio on Thursday.
“Seeing the Maradona always full, knowing that there are fans who travel around Italy and Europe to be near us, gives us a huge boost.”
The fixtures end on Tuesday with a Turin derby which gives Torino a rare chance to move above Juventus, who have dropped to seventh after a 15-point deduction, just two ahead of their neighbours.