Tops and Flops of Serie A Round 28: Milan Shatter Napoli Aura

Following the international break, Serie A returned with a bang! Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room. League leaders Napoli collapsed in front of their own shell-shocked supporters, suffering a humbling 0-4 defeat at the hands of defending champions Milan. In this weekly column, we often try to include as many clubs as possible for variety’s sake, but the Tops and Flops of Serie A Round 28 will be inevitably dominated by the enchanting Rossoneri and the bewildered Partenopei.

Top (Player): Rafael Leao

This could have easily been his partner in crime Brahim Diaz who was equally scintillating, but Rafael Leao gets the recognition by a slight margin.

The Portuguese has gone missing for the majority of the campaign, but he decided to show up for the big Round 28 clash at the Maradona Stadium and deliver the type of jaw-dropping performance that earned the Serie A MVP award last term.

The Milan star was simply unplayable, completely overshadowing the disappointing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia on this particular evening, putting Napoli to the sword with a fabulous brace while also contributing in another goal.

The Rossoneri need THIS Leao if they’re planning to extend their Champions League run.

Flop (Player): Romelu Lukaku

Speaking of MVPs, the best Serie A player from the 2020/21 season continues to struggle in his futile attempts to rediscover his former self.

On Saturday, Romelu Lukaku wasted the type of sitter that is unforgivable for a striker in his status (and on his wages), which eventually cost his side dearly.

Fiorentina added to Inter’s misery as they prevailed in a 1-0 result at the Giuseppe Meazza, and most Nerazzurri supporters have identified the Belgian giant as the main culprit.

Top (Manager): Stefano Pioli

Although Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Italiano deserved some plaudits as well, there’s simply no other way around it: Stefano Pioli has to be the best manager from Round 28 following his tactical masterclass which shattered the aura around the Serie A runaway leaders.

The Rossoneri coach had the guts to pull off a timely return to his favorite 4-2-3-1 formation but with a few tweaks. He unleashed Diaz and Leao on the flanks while placing Ismael Bennacer in a slightly advanced position to act as a thorn in Stanislav Lobotka’s side.

Even his substitutions worked to perfection, as Alexis Saelemaekers scored an extraordinary solo goal after coming off the bench.

Flop (Manager): Luciano Spalletti

On the contrary, Luciano Spalletti couldn’t find an answer in the absence of his top striker Victor Osimhen. But aside from the result, the Napoli boss finds himself on the Flop section for his uncalled-for altercation with Leao in the tunnel.

It appeared that the Tuscan took an issue with the player’s allegedly-provocative celebration in front of the Partenopei supporters and took upon himself to give the young star a moral lesson at the interval, which then culminated in an exchange of words between him and Milan technical director Paolo Maldini who came to his player’s defense.

At the end of the season, Spalletti will eventually win his first Scudetto title, but these recurring controversial incidents aren’t giving his reputation any favors.

Top (Team): Milan

In Round 28, Milan completed one of the most astonishing upsets of the Serie A campaign. This was supposed to be a symbolic passing of the torch moment where the imminent champions beat the current defending champions in front of their joyous supporters.

But apparently, someone forget to send the script to Leao and company who ran wild at the Maradona, giving themselves a mental edge ahead of the two sides double encounter in the Champions League quarter-final.

What a stunning twist!

Flop (Team): Napoli

This was one of those nights at Naples. In a nightmarish scenario, Spalletti’s men crumbled on the pitch while the coach embarrassed himself in a bizarre half-time dispute with Leao and Maldini.

To make matters worse, Napoli fans in attendance were holding a protest against club president Aurelio De Laurentiis while concurrently fighting among themselves in what was an awry situation for everyone involved.

Top (Midfield Duo): Wijnaldum and Matic

Enough about Napoli and Milan. In Round 28, Roma bounced back with an important 3-0 victory, albeit against Serie A strugglers Sampdoria. This time, José Mourinho has his experienced midfield duo to thank.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Nemanja Matic gave us a lesson in the dynamics between a number 6 and a number 8 (never mind the fact that the one who wears the number 8 actually acts as a number 6).

The Serbian, who perfected the role of the Regista, picked up his Dutch teammate’s run on two occasions. The first resulted in a goal for the former Liverpool man, while the second earned a spot-kick that was converted by Paulo Dybala.

This experienced pair still have some gas in the tank.

Top (Super-Sub): Alexis Saelemaekers

Milan didn’t need a super-sub on Sunday, but Saelemaekers was hellbent on making his presence felt at the Maradona.

Although the match was already wrapped up by the time he entered the pitch, the Belgian deepened Napoli’s wounds by storming his way into the penalty box despite being surrounded by four opposition players, and then found the back of the net.

Tip of the Hat: Musa Barrow

Following the heroics of Leao and Diaz in Naples, no other player had a chance to feature in the Top player section. Yet, Musa Barrow deserves some sort of recognition following a sublime display in Bologna’s 3-0 win over Udinese.

The Gambian was perhaps slightly fortunate to earn a couple of assists thanks to long-range shots from Stefan Posch and Nikola Moro, but luck had nothing to do with his well-taken goal. The 24-year-old almost added another goal with a brilliant shot.

It was surely his finest display this season.

Top (Goal): Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Perhaps Saelemaekers’ goal could have gotten the nod, but Sergej Milinkovic-Savic pulled off what may well be the perfect freekick in Lazio’s 2-0 win over Monza.

The power, precision and velocity were just impeccable, as the elegant Serbian reminded us all why he’s one of the most sought-after midfielders in Europe.

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