Serie A continues to play host to the most intriguing title race across Europe’s major leagues, with defending champions Juventus going toe-to-toe with Napoli.
Juventus broke the record for successive Scudetto titles last season, winning their sixth straight title to overtake Inter Milan’s five-in-a-row from 2005-2010, and they are chasing a seventh.
Napoli have finished second twice and third twice during Juventus’ run, and there is the sense that this season they could break the Old Lady’s strangle on Italian football and win their first title since 1990.
Manager Maurizio Sarri has been at the helm since the beginning of the 2015-16 season, and now he looks to have the settled side he has craved, that is crucially fully tuned into his tactics.
Under his tenure, the club has received more attention for exits than for arrivals, with both Gonzalo Higuain and Manolo Gabbiadini both leaving Naples since 2015 – with Higuain joining rivals Juventus.
Big money moves are not Sarri’s style, preferring to scout and source players that are flexible to his tactics and ready for the challenge of restoring Napoli to their former glories.
Despite performing strongly in both Serie A and the Champions League under Sarri, the Nepalese native has only broken the €20m mark once, for Arkadiuz Milik back in 2016.
However it is one of his first ever signings, Allan, that is playing a key role in Napoli’s title push this season.
Sarri convinced the former Brazilian U20 international to swap Udinese, where he had been a regular starter, for Napoli, within weeks of taking over at the Stadio San Paolo.
He immediately established himself as a key man in Sarri’s midfield alongside Jorginho, with captain Marek Hamsik granted greater attacking licence.
Last season was disrupted by injury for both Allan and Jorginho, and Napoli’s struggled to generate season-long level of consistency, with Juventus eventually having too much for them.
2017-18 has seen both players playing regularly at the base of the Napoli midfield, in support of Hamsik, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne as Napoli have opened up a four point lead at the top of Serie A.
Deployed primarily as a defensive shield in front of the Napoli back four this season, both players have taken on greater playmaking responsibilities, easing the central attacking burden on Hamsik.
When defending against Napoli, Serie A sides have looked to smother the front three and limit Hamsik’s impact to long range shots and set pieces, however with the greater forward impetus from the pair, Napoli have a new string to their bow.
Alongside keeping possession and dictating the flow of games for Napoli, both players are now making runs into the opposition box and scoring key goals.
Allan’s early goal against SPAL in February, his fourth of the season, sealed a key 1-0 win, with a new trademark late run into the box the source of the goal.
Jorginho has netted two winners this season, and has shared penalty duties with the inconsistent Mertens, as he continues to prove his importance.
Much of the attention at Napoli is focused on the trio of Hamsik, Mertens and Insigne and their brilliant interchanges in attack, but this season has seen a stiffening of their midfield and more diverse threat.