Napoli turmoil sweeps away memories of title glory

Giovanni Di Lorenzo in action forNapoli. File photo

Napoli are deep in crisis as they prepare to host rock-bottom Salernitana on Saturday with their Serie A title defence in tatters and tensions flaring behind the scenes.

A full 20 points behind leaders Inter Milan, who are at Monza on Saturday, at the season’s halfway mark, Napoli are unrecognisable from the team which waltzed to a historic Scudetto last term.

Walter Mazzarri’s side have scored just four times in their last eight matches in all competitions, losing six of those fixtures, and have tumbled all the way down to ninth in Italy’s top flight.

Mazzarri was hired in November to clean up the mess left by his predecessor Rudi Garcia but if anything Napoli have got worse under his command, with serious disciplinary problems and player spats adding to a toxic mix.

Last weekend’s three-goal shoeing at Torino wasn’t even this season’s worst defeat — that honour goes to the 4-0 Italian Cup thumping at the hands of Frosinone — but was the third straight match Napoli had at least one player sent off.

As if that wasn’t bad enough a row involving the stars of last season’s title triumph, Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, suddenly exploded out of the blue on Wednesday.

Kvaratskhelia’s agent Mamuka Jugeli gave an interview suggesting that Osimhen, who recently extended his Napoli contract until 2026, will be playing in Saudi Arabia next season.

That enraged Osimhen, who from Nigeria’s training camp ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations called Jugeli a “piece of filth and a disgrace” in a punchy social media riposte.

Osimhen’s agent Roberto Calenda also got involved, calling Jugeli’s comments “nasty, superficial and unacceptable”.

“We’ve just extended his contract and Victor’s only wish, apart from the Africa Cup of Nations, is to help Napoli. Everything else is just garbage.”

Neither Osimhen nor Cameroon midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa have been in the enforced “ritiro” at Napoli’s training centre leading up to Saturday’s regional derby, which could be a trickier match than the league table suggests.

Salernitana were unlucky to lose to Juventus last weekend and held AC Milan in their previous home fixture, and Napoli also have a midweek trip to Riyadh for the new-fangled, four-team Italian Super Cup to think about.

Milan meanwhile will try to bounce back from their disappointing Italian Cup exit when they host Roma on Sunday night, the weekend’s headline clash.

Roma are also licking their wounds after being dumped out of the cup by local rivals Lazio, with both teams losing their most realistic chance of a trophy this season.

Jose Mourinho, who is suspended for the San Siro clash, will again have to do without Paulo Dybala who had to leave Wednesday’s 1-0 derby defeat at half-time with yet another thigh injury.

Meanwhile Milan coach Stefano Pioli’s position is being questioned again following his team’s limp 2-1 home defeat to Atalanta, and a long list of absences is only making one of Europe’s most high-pressure jobs even tougher.

Player to watch: Kenan Yildiz

Turkey international Yildiz is one of a number of young players that Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has been brought through from the club’s “Next Gen” team which plays in Italy’s third tier.

The 18-year-old has impressed since breaking into Juve’s first team this season and, with Federico Chiesa again injured, is set to start up front alongside Dusan Vlahovic against Sassuolo on Tuesday.

Juve are just two points behind Inter whose Super Cup commitments have further complicated a schedule which unlike Juve’s also includes Champions League football.

Key stats

22 – Napoli have collected just 28 points from 19 games, 22 fewer than last season.

7 – The number of points Napoli have picked up from an available 21 since Mazzarri took charge.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday

Genoa v Torino, Napoli v Salernitana (both 1400), Verona v Empoli (1700), Monza v Inter Milan (1945)

Sunday

Lazio v Lecce (1130), Cagliari v Bologna,  (1400), Fiorentina v Udinese (1700), AC Milan v Roma (1945)

Monday

Atalanta v Frosinone (1945)

Tuesday

Juventus v Sassuolo (1945)

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