Napoli Beat Roma To Remain Perfect, But Can We Call Them Title Contenders?

Whisper it. Napoli could be champions. It could be their year. Finally, after half a decade of Juventus dominance in Serie A, a team has emerged that could legitimately challenge for the title. Not just because Juve has stumbled, but because Napoli is a legitimately fantastic team. Along with Manchester City, Maurizio Sarri’s men are playing the best football in the world right now. Could it be enough to take them to the top?

It was a seismic weekend. Very occasionally, the angels of the fixture calendar bestow on us the good fortune of a collection of vital matches, which fall in very close order. Juventus against Lazio. Roma against Napoli. Inter against Milan. Whatever happened, there would be important consequences. As it happens, Napoli now bestrides the table, clear of all its rivals and looking imperious.

Juventus and Lazio set the scene. As in the Supercoppa, Juventus was its own worst enemy. After going ahead, they allowed Lazio to score twice and, once again, the game came down to the final seconds with Lazio leading 2-1. VAR played its part, awarding the champions a late penalty and the opportunity to draw the teams level.

But Paulo Dybala missed. Once again, the Argentine’s bottle has been called into question. Right now, it’s the much-maligned Ciro Immobile who looks like one of the most lethal strikers in the league. Either way, it was three points lost and the first time Juventus has lost at home in 57 games.


Next up, Napoli visited Roma. Eusebio Di Francesco’s men have been keeping a low profile so far. Their defense has been the second best in Serie A and the manager played this up, positing that it is defense that leads to championships in the long run.

But the attack he faced was frightening. Napoli has been scoring — at the very least — three goals against every opponent. They had earned maximum points, winning every game so far. The whispers had started around Naples, wondering whether this team could take home the first title since Maradona left. But no one wants to say it out loud right now. It’s too soon; there’s fear of jinxing their chances.

Roma, at the very least, slowed Napoli down. But they couldn’t stop them. Wave after wave of blue shirts flew at the Roma defense and it took a De Rossi mistake — Insigne latching on to the captain’s loose ball — to break the deadlock. Two late Roma shots against the post meant the match could have gone either way, but Napoli emerged victorious 1-0.

Eight wins from eight. Quite literally, a perfect start. Sarri has been fine-tuning this team for years now and it finally looks ready to challenge. It is impossible to describe Napoli in full flow. Instead, watch them play. Load up a clip from anywhere. The quick passing. The movement. The interchanging between players. It’s football at the very highest level.

Unfortunately, they’ll be playing Manchester City in the Champions League this week. Of all the teams to face, City are perhaps the most immune to Napoli’s ferocity. It will be a glorious bout of champagne football but, in all likelihood, a poor representation of Napoli’s capabilities.

Truth be told, European football is not Napoli’s priority. As evidenced by Sarri’s team selections so far (particularly resting Mertens in the defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk) as they are very much focused on the league. Juventus is wobbling, the project which has seen them dominate domestic football for so long perhaps suffering from one team turnover too many. It leaves a gap opening up, the chance for a team to challenge for the title. However, Roma started well in 2013/14 (better, in fact) and still lost the league by 17 points. But people in Naples are starting to believe.


And what of the other challengers? Right now, it’s only Inter that seems able to keep up with the leaders. The Derby Della Madoninna took place on Sunday evening and more than lived up to the hype. After a stalemate first half, the second exploded into action.

Three times, Mauro Icardi dragged his side into the lead. Twice, Milan managed to equalize. The Argentine has the ability to deliver scuffed, imperfect and flawed finishes, which still somehow find the back of the net. Icardi’s hat trick paved the way to a 3-2 Inter win.

He’s utterly ruthless, a poacher who has been working hard to improve his all-around game but remains buoyed by his remarkable ability to score goals. Aping Messi, Icardi held his shirt aloft to the fans in celebration. A sign that his bond with supporters has improved after last year’s antics.

Napoli Roma

Mauro Icardi. Photo: @SquawkaNews | Twitter

For Milan, it’s a bad loss but not a catastrophe. Or it wouldn’t be in any normal season. This year, Milan simply must finish at least fourth. If they fail, the entire Chinese investment project could be in danger of collapsing. Vincenzo Montella made good changes to get his side into the game, but the unfamiliarity of the players once again let him down. He may be sacked but it would be unfortunate. As Napoli demonstrates, creating a winning team takes time and patience, not just throwing together expensive, unfamiliar players all at once.

Juventus is stumbling, focused on trying to win in Europe. Roma is still finding its feet. Lazio, excellent manager aside, seems to be lacking that final, essential dash of quality that can deliver a championship. Milan is a mess. So that leaves only Napoli and Inter.


Inter is not playing attractive football right now but it is winning. They’re only two points off the top spot. Thanks to their own careful forethought/utter incompetence, they don’t have to worry about European football this season. So they have a full week to prepare for matches.

And, this Saturday, they travel south to the San Paolo. While Napoli is flying to sunny Manchester in the midweek, Inter can focus its training on combatting Napoli’s many attacking outlets. Aurelio De Laurentiis, the owner of Napoli, has already suggested that Sarri should rest players against City ahead of this fixture. That should tell you where Napoli’s priorities lay.

This weekend showed us that Napoli is a serious title challenger. After eight wins to start the season, it’s impossible not to talk about them as title contenders. After Saturday’s game, we may be even more sure of that. This could be Napoli’s year. Just don’t say that out loud.

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