Napoli have clinched the title and Inter have moved significantly closer to a Champions League berth, but bragging rights and more will be at stake in one of the final big matches of the season.
Serie A Week 36 – Sunday 21 May 2023 – Stadio Diego Armando Maradona | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Napoli have proven to be the most consistent and spectacular side in Serie A and deservedly won the Scudetto. But the recent glorious run by Inter raises the question of whether the Partenopei are really the best team in Italy or if they caught lightning in a bottle and took advantage of the other contenders’ misfortunes rather than being as dominant as their cushion would suggest.
A dip in motivation is to be expected now, which complicates the historical comparisons, but they might fall short of the 90-point threshold. They will end up distant from the best tallies in league’s history. There’s no question they have been great, but all the other top sides struggling at multiple points of their respective campaigns helped them too. It doesn’t take anything away from what they accomplished, especially because they ended a lengthy drought and amended a few previous unfortunate outcomes.
The Azzurri got a head start on the competition ahead of the summer, as they are the only Italian side already certain to play in the Champions League, but it looks like they won’t be able to exploit it due to uncertainty at the top. There was a ton of momentum toward Luciano Spalletti agreeing to an extension a week ago, and then it went away for some reason, and the gaffer now seems on the verge of leaving, although the club picked up its option to extend his contract for another season, but that’s a minimal guarantee when it comes to top teams. It’d be challenging for him to take over another side, as there’s a hefty release clause in his deal, so that’s not the reason behind the issues. It’d be a big shame if the marriage, which has worked as both parties finally reached their ultimate goal, ended because of petty reasons and a rift on a personal level between the owner and the manager.
Director Cristiano Giuntoli seems to have made up his mind about joining Juventus, considering the title the fitting coronation for his eight-year run. His departure would be a little more understandable, factoring in the daunting but alluring position he would assume if given the green light. President Aurelio De Laurentiis could put up a fight, after all, he has another year on his contract, but it’s tough to keep a player against his will, let alone an executive.
We’ll see whether the chairman will resort to some legitimate tricks, perhaps demanding compensation, or if he’ll just oppose his exit in every possible way, possibly delaying it until the Bianconeri are tired of waiting. They would take a hit if he left, but he joined from Carpi back in the day, and they could take the same route, poaching somebody from a minnow and then grooming him. Plus, it doesn’t look like the exec will bring many men with him, so the rest of the structure will remain, and it shined last summer in particular. They’ll be in an incredibly uncomfortable situation for a team that just won its first title in 33 years.
They will have major decisions to make on the transfer market as well, some easier than others. Piotr Zielinski and Hirving Lozano’s contracts are up in 2024, and their wages are relics of a previous era when they weren’t so averse to handing out large sums. They are unlikely to get a raise; on the contrary, the club could ask them to trim their salary, and the outcome would be predictable at that point. They would be sold under normal circumstances, but unless the players push to exit, they might do like Lorenzo Insigne, especially the Pole, who has often voiced his desire to stay and leave on a free in a year.
The vultures are looming, and they’ll have to hope for some help from their stars to keep the band together to repeat and have a legitimate shot at the Champions League next year despite what’s going on with Spalletti and Giuntoli. There’s no new contract in sight for Kim Min-Jae, so they will be at the mercy of the suitors and his bizarre release clause early in the window. Their coffers would be full, but finding another imposing center-back for the second summer in a row will be challenging, and they are unlikely to splurge anyway.
The big kahuna is Victor Osimhen, and it’s a constant back and forth on what will happen with him. They proved last summer to be extremely capable of finding the right replacements for their linchpins, but the task would be massive in his case, as he’s the heart and soul of the team on top of a helluva striker.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrhamani, Kim, Olivera; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Raspadori.
Doubts: Meret/Gollini, Politano/Elmas, Raspadori/Kvaratskhelia.
Injury Report: Kvarataskhelia (knock) – Questionable; Rui (tibial plateau fracture) – Probable.
Inter caught fire at the right time, and the momentum, along with some lucky breaks in the draws, which are always necessary, but then you have to go out and do the deed, carried them to the Champions League final, something unthinkable for large portions of the seasons.
After months of rumors about Simone Inzaghi, which were fair given how extensively they underperformed domestically, sticking with him is a no-brainer on the club’s side. But the negotiation to extend his contract, which is up in 2024, will be interesting since they don’t swim in doubloons, and his wages are already robust. The tables have completely turned, and the boss holds all the leverage now. Plus, their success in the cups boosted his reputation, and prestigious foreign clubs could take a look at him. It would be a stunning reversal if he were the one to move on, but not a shock as the management had been planting the seeds for his exit not so subtly and tried to undermine him in the press, potentially generating some bitterness on his part. The date in Istanbul postpones every talk to the second half of June, but it’s something to monitor.
It’s easy to pinpoint what led to their turnaround. Once Marcelo Brozovic and Romelu Lukaku, but also Joaquin Correa and Robin Gosens, shook off their injuries and returned to form, the gaffer started rotating way more because he had more men he could trust. The lessened load benefitted the other starters, which looked fresher. Only one or two play all the time but not in the most demanding roles.
The late surge by the Belgian striker rekindles the topic of what to do with him as he joined on a season-long loan with no option to buy. Orchestrating another spell is the easiest way forward, but it wouldn’t come very cheap despite the formula and wouldn’t be forward-looking. Plus, if he wants to stay put for years, as he often said, the Nerazzurri would need to arrange something permanent at some point, and his valuation is a big hindrance.
They have been attached to some young strikers, some more attainable than others, but maintaining the attack intact is realistic. Correa hasn’t lived up to expectations but brings something different to the table than other forwards. Plus, it’s very tough to offload him without registering a loss, and avoiding that is paramount for them. The deep runs kept everybody happy and engaged since they had all had their chances to play, and winning cures all aches. The pieces are well-assorted, and most combinations work well.
The unexpectedly large Champions League windfall is a future-altering boon. They had long been tipped to sell one or two centerpieces to make the numbers work and bankroll additions. The prize money could offset that, at last partially, and it’s way easier to confirm most of a roster that has ultimately succeeded despite dropping a lot of easy games. They’ll need to replace Milan Skriniar, but Matteo Darmian has been brilliant in that role, and going with him as a regular is a sound possibility. At that point, they could sign a prospect or a solid veteran to restore their depth without necessarily looking for a top-notch contributor.
Martinez has gone on a scoring binge in recent fixtures, reopening the capocannoniere race when Victor Osimhen seemingly had it in the bag. That will be one of the main points of interest in the clash. Plus, Inter were one of the few that defeated Napoli when things still matter, so the Azzurri will attempt to rectify that. On the other hand, La Beneamata has the Coppa Italia final coming up next Wednesday, so they might rest a few key players to get to that with more energy.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Onana; Darmian, De Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Gosens; Correa, Lukaku.
Doubts: Bastoni/Acerbi, Calhanoglu/Gagliardini, Correa/Martinez.
Injury Report: Mkhitaryan (thigh strain), Skriniar (back surgery) – Out.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals
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