UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Can Napoli win the UEFA Champions League 2022/23?
The Italian side are well on their way to winning the domestic league, but what about their chances in Europe?
Bang. You already missed it. There’s no point running now, the advertising board is right in front of you. In fact, you’re already off the pitch. Where is the ball? Wait, what on earth just happened?
Maybe the world stopped. Perhaps the thunderous rotation of the planet at 1,000 miles per hour instantaneously came to a halt, causing you to fling yourself so far away from where you were meant to be. But, if that’s the case, why didn’t Khvicha Kvaratskhelia do the same when I was chasing him?
Kvaratskhelia didn’t feel his head spinning like you, Eintracht Frankfurt defenders, as he was the one controlling everything. The Georgian took the ball in the middle of midfield and sent you racing back to close the space you knew he was travelling towards. Then, as he placed you in the perfect position, he stopped dead in his tracks, and with a flick of his right heel, nestling comfortably in his rolled-down socks like a stray hedgehog, he sent the ball spinning one way and the 6 billion trillion tonne planet the other.
Di Lorenzo, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s teammate, had been warned: he knew, which is why he was able to get on the end of the universe-twisting flicked pass and send it away and under the goalkeeper wearing the Frankfurt badge on his chest. With that, Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli go 0-2 up against Frankfurt in the Champions League round of 16, and it looks like nobody can stop them.
Can Napoli win the Champions League?
Simply put, of course they can. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has got, as well as the ability to control the orbital axis of the third planet from the Sun, 11 goals and 9 assists in Serie A, and 2 goals and 4 assists in 7 games in the Champions League. The draw for the quarter-final meant that Napoli are in a curious position: they play against AC Milan in the next round; were they to get though, they would go up against one of Inter or Benfica. As for the teams one might term ‘juggernauts’, Real Madrid/Chelsea/Bayern/City are on the other side of the bracket and will belly flop and throw paper money airplanes each other until just one remains. They are not Napoli’s problem.
A simple question: are Napoli good?
Again, a simple answer: yes. They create almost as many big chances as I have fingers on one hand (4.75, more than any team) and they manage many more shots per game in Europe (17), scoring more goals per game than anyone else (3.13). A 2-0 loss at Anfield is their only blip on an otherwise faultless record this season and with Victor Osimhen up front, who has scored 19 goals in 22 games this season and has 4 assists, it would take a very brave team to go up against them fully confident of a win.
In terms of defending, they have kept a clean sheet in 50% of their games; but that’s fine, because if you score 1, they’ll score three. Or more. At the back, Kim Min-jae was labelled by his manager as “the best centre-back in the world”. In front of him, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Stanislav Lobotka make a centre-midfield pairing of legs and tactical nous, while up top, I almost forgot to add Mexican forward, Chucky Lozano, into the mix. The talent is there.
Napoli are creative and fun: what more do we want?
But there’s even more. Piotr Zieliński is the team’s top creator with 22 chances made in the Champions League alone this season. In the league, as per FBREF, the 28-year-old is higher than the 91st percentile for non-penalty goals, assists, shot creating actions and passes attempted.
So, in conclusion, of course Napoli can win the league and the Champions League. Of course they can put one million goals past every team they want to. And of course - and this is the best part - they are going to be a lot of fun while they show us how they do it.
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