With the end of the season drawing ever closer, it’s time to identify the best and worst performers for every Serie A team in our Tops and Flops series, and it’s only fitting that we launch it with the Napoli edition.
Following a hiatus that lasted for more than three decades, the coveted Sucedotto title has finally returned to the Southern city that vividly embraced the trophy as only Naples can.
So when it comes to the Partenopei, one could have picked a dozen of players who are worthy of recognition on the back of a historic achievement. On the contrary, few Napoli players genuinely qualify as Flops.
Nevertheless, we’ll attempt to respect the format by naming the best three stars this season among Luciano Spalletti’s ranks, while identifying a trio of players who have failed to fulfill the expectations placed on their shoulders.
Flop #3: Mathias Olivera
For several years, Mario Rui was deemed to be the weak link in the starting lineup, with the Partenopei crowds crying for an upgrade on the Portuguese (more on him later).
So when Mathias Olivera first joined Napoli, the expectations were high for the left-back who landed in Italy on the back of an impressive stint at Celta Vigo. But while it wasn’t a calamitous first campaign in Serie A by any means, it was certainly off the mark.
For most of the campaign, the Uruguayan struggled for playing time while settling for a second-fiddle role. And when Mario Rui suffered an injury in the most vital part of the campaign, Olivera couldn’t properly fill the void, especially when it came to supporting the attacks.
The 25-year-old surely has time on his side, but it would require a significantly improved second campaign in Italy to salvage his Napoli career.
Top #3: Stanislav Lobotka
When Fabian Ruiz decided to trade Napoli’s passion with the riches of Paris, the Azzurri supporters were left to wonder who would fill the void left by the Spaniard in the middle of the park.
Nonetheless, Spalletti didn’t have a shred of doubt in his brilliant mind. The Tuscan knew that he already possesses arguably the best Regista in Italian football, even if the rest of the world had no clue about it.
From the very start of the campaign, Stanislav Lobotka took his game up a notch, cementing himself as an integral and elemental part of the manager’s tactical jigsaw. He’s simply the undisputed architect of this fabulous Napoli team.
The 28-year-old is phenomenal when comes to maintaining possession, taking the ball out of dangerous areas, and distributing the play. Simply put, he’s everything a deep-lying playmaker should be.
In other circumstances, Lobotka would have landed on top of the list, but as it happens, the Partenopei have another two stupendous stars among their ranks.
Flop #2: Diego Demme
When Lobotka and Diego Demme first joined the club in January 2020, the German’s combative displays eclipsed the Slovakian who struggled to make an impact under the guidance of Luciano Spalletti.
Fast forward to the 2022/23 campaign and the roles have dramatically reversed.
In his final campaign in Naples, Demme has been reduced to a benchwarmer, making only six appearances throughout the season, mostly brief cameos.
Fortunately for the 31-year-old, his time at the club culminated in a Scudetto triumph, one he’ll cherish for the rest of his days.
Unsung Hero: Mario Rui
When it comes to naming the Top three players in Napoli’s campaign, Mario Rui might not be among the leading candidates. Yet, the hardworking fullback deserves recognition, especially after undeservedly being a much-maligned figure at the Maradona Stadium in the past years.
Every time he takes the pitch, the Portuguese displays the sort of unparalleled tenacity and determination that has finally earned him the respect and admiration of the fanbase, while his exquisite crossing surely helped his cause.
Top #2: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia
As we said so often this season, this man seems to be a cheat code straight out of a video game. While his displays slightly dimmed in the last couple of months, the damage had already been done.
From the very first round of the campaign, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia took Italian football by storm. The young Georgian was supposedly set to struggle in his attempts to replace former Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne. But he didn’t just excel in this task, he even surpassed the Italian’s impact in his maiden Serie A campaign.
This stroke of magic is enough to justify why Napoli sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli is one of the most touted in the game, and why club president Aurelio De Laurentiis is desperate to maintain his services.
Flop #1: Tanguy Ndombélé
Not so long ago, Tanguy Ndombélé was one of the most coveted up-and-coming midfielders in the game, attracting interest from a host of top European clubs during his original stint at Lyon.
Sadly, the Frenchman hasn’t been able to fulfill his early career promise since moving to Tottenham in 2019, while his loan stint at Napoli failed to spark a career revival.
The 26-year-old spent his campaign serving as a backup for the likes of Piotr Zielinski and Frank Zambo Anguissa without ever producing the type of performances that warrant a starting spot.
In what had been a marvelous summer transfer campaign for the club, this was arguably the one deal that blemished it.
Honorable Mention: Kim Min-Jae
With three superb stars occupying the Top Three spots, Kim Min-jae just missed out on what would have a vastly-deserved recognition by all accounts, but we still had to find a way to pay homage to the South Korean “monster” who enjoyed a stellar first campaign at Napoli.
If there’s one man who can reduce Kalidou Koulibaly to a distant memory in the Southern city, then it’s surely the former Fenerbahce man.
Top #1: Victor Osimhen
With all due respect to Lobotka, Kvaratskhelia, Kim and all other Partenopei stars who outdid themselves in what has been a historic campaign for the club, there’s only one man worthy of the undisputed TOP spot.
At times, Victor Osimhen’s goals were a culmination of brilliant teamwork, with his neat finishing serving as the icing on the cake. But on other occasions, the Nigerian was simply dragging his team forward, bagging strikes that seemed impossible, or chasing balls that he had no business catching, yet, somehow finding a way to reach the ball ahead of the defender.
Simply put, the former Lille man has transformed himself into one of the deadliest strikers in the world all while becoming the symbol of a hardworking community and a city that takes pride in defying Northern invaders.
|Follow us on Google News for more updates on Serie A and Italian football