The summer transfer window brought some radical changes to most top teams in Serie A. Juventus went from Allegri’s cautious pragmatism to Sarriball, Inter started a new cycle with Antonio Conte and numerous new starters, Roma took a (successful gamble) on hiring Paulo Fonseca, Milan had their squad built from their third sporting director in three years, while Atalanta had to deal with playing on multiple fronts after surprisingly qualifying for the Champions League.
Because of their competitors expected to go through growing pain because of all their changes, many expected Lazio and Napoli to get off to fast starts based on the fact they went with continuity. Both teams confirmed their managers and made just a few switches to their starting lineups to improve on their weaknesses, but after fifteen matches played the two clubs couldn’t be in more opposite trajectories.
Lazio are now riding a seven game win streak and have consolidated their position in the Champions League zone, with some even wondering if they can win the title. They finally were able to defeat Juventus at the Olimpico after sixteen years with Simone Inzaghi finally besting Maurizio Sarri in a match for the first time in his career.
Not surprisingly, the fallout of yesterday’s loss brought a lot of prisoner of the moment takes from Juventus fans with Sarri despite the fact the former Napoli and Chelsea manager had never previously been defeated on the bianconeri’s bench. Ironically Simone Inzaghi was seen as a front runner for the Juventus job once Max Allegri left in large part because of his close relationship with the club’s sporting director Fabio Paratici.
Instead Inzaghi ended up staying at Lazio by signing a new contract along with sporting Igli Tare’. Interestingly both of them had also been linked to Milan, but keeping them both has so far been a hige blessing for president Claudio Lotito. Tare’ has long been one of the most underrated “direttori sportive” in Italy- he has brought in the club’s entire nucleus in recent years including Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto, Sergej Milinkovic Savic, Joaquin Correa, Lucas Leiva and Francesco Acerbi who has been a brilliant replacement for Stefan de Vrij.
While in previous seasons, this nucleus has ended up being better individually than as a sum of its parts, during this campaign they are all performing at a top level. Tare’ and Lotito went all in with this group, retaining them with extensions was an expensive proposition and they decided to just make a few strategic additions to bolster their main weaknesses- Manuel Lazzari has been an upgrade over Adam Marusic while Denis Vavro has struggled so much he could end up like Durmissi and Berisha in the bust bin, so suffice to say continuity is at the basis of the team’s success.
Napoli took a similar approach last summer. They confirmed Carlo Ancelotti as manager and bolstered on paper made upgrades by replacing Raul Albiol with Kostas Manolas and bringing in Giovanni Di Lorenzo to upgrade the right back, they also invested substantially in Hirving Lozano to be the long term replacement for Dries Mertens.
On paper this seemed like an almost perfect plan, after all Albiol had missed a substantial part of the season and Manolas was seen as an upgrade, Di Lorenzo has been one of the only bright spots and even made his debut for the Italian national team and the club had the luxury to make their most expensive purchase ever in Lozano to essentially give him a year to get acclamaited to Serie A so he could eventually replace Mertens (or Insigne).
But instead Napoli’s campaign has been nothing short of disastrous. President Aurelio De Laurentiis spent significantly to retain his best players, he turned down a big offer for Allan last January, he made Koulibaly one of the highest paid defenders in Serie A and worked with Mino Raiola to make Lorenzo Insigne feel like a huge part of the project after some previous difficulties.
All three players have not come close to their usual level of performances- Koulibaly has been a shell of his former self since playing in the Africa Cup this summer, Allan’s struggles date even further back to ever since his move to PSG collapsed and Insigne has been the poor version we have seen on the Azzuri in recent years for his home town club- if that weren’t enough Allan and Insigne were identified as the ring leaders of the mutiny when the team refused to go on retreat.
So how come Lazio and Napoli have taken such different trajectories despite using the same formula? You can argue Inzaghi is peaking as a manager after some growing pains in recent years, while the game seems to have gone past Ancelotti with substantial reports of both his Bayern Munich and Napoli teams not practicing enough.
But there’s probably more to this- Lazio has come so close to reaching their objective of making the Champions League that their intact core has shown the hunger to finally get over the hump this season, while Napoli have been the exact opposite, it feels the disappointment of having no titles to show for their impressive runs in recent years. Turns out continuity isn’t always a magical formula, the secret is knowing when your group is ready to peak as opposed to when it already gave you all it has.