Napoli's class of 2023 a better collective than Maradona teams, Spalletti claims

By Sports Desk March 15, 2023

Luciano Spalletti believes Napoli's current team is a greater collective unit than the Partenopei sides which Diego Maradona inspired to two Serie A titles.

Napoli reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time on Wednesday, completing a 5-0 aggregate triumph in their last-16 tie against Eintracht Frankfurt.

A Victor Osimhen brace and a Piotr Zielinski penalty guided Napoli to a 3-0 win at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, with last season's Europa League winners failing to land a blow on Spalletti's men.

With Napoli set to end a 33-year wait to win Serie A after building an 18-point lead at the summit, comparisons have been made with the sides Maradona led to the Scudetto in 1986-87 and 1989-90.

However, Spalletti feels his team are less reliant on individual brilliance, saying: "There is a key difference – nobody wins games alone like Maradona did. 

"We manage to make up for our shortcomings thanks to collective work. Tonight I saw many elements combine and play a messy game, which sometimes you need. 

"It's not just that the important individuals create an outlet. To make the most of it, you need those who scrape and clean up situations for the players with more quality."

While Napoli's remarkable rise has been a collective effort, Osimhen produced another talismanic forward display against Eintracht as he reached 23 goals for the campaign.

The Nigeria international has scored 13 times since the turn of the year – a tally only bettered by Marcus Rashford (15) among players from Europe's top five leagues – and Spalletti says there is more to come.

"He's already a world-class player, a great world-class player," Spalletti said of Osimhen. "He still has untapped potential – a lot of it – so we're pleased. 

"In addition to scoring goals, he cleans up situations when the opposing team presses us, he creates opportunities for us. He has these flashes. 

"Everything is correct with him, and we need to build on these matches both individually and collectively to be even more ready for the following games."

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    Schick's equaliser ensured Czechia avoided a second successive defeat on Saturday, cancelling out Georges Mikautadze's penalty in an entertaining affair.

    Schick, who netted five times at Euro 2020 to tie Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the goalscoring charts, is now his country's all-time leading marksman at the Euros with six goals, overtaking Milan Baros outright. No player has matched his return across the last two editions of the tournament.

    However, Czechia will be lamenting a host of missed chances after firing off 27 shots to Georgia's five, hitting the target 12 times – the most by any team to fail to win a Euros match on record (since 1980).

    They could have been hit with a sucker punch in second-half stoppage time, but Georgia's Saba Lobjanidze fired over when played clean through on goal.

    "Of course, 1-1 is not enough for us. We were better, we had more chances," the Bayer Leverkusen striker said.

    "We were able to equalise, we were going at them but we were not able to score a second goal and in the end we made a stupid mistake and could have lost. 

    "We have a point. We have to play for everything in the last match."

    The draw leaves both teams on one point with one game remaining. Czechia face Turkiye in their final Group F match, while Georgia take on Portugal.

    Czechia accumulated 3.11 expected goals (xG) to their opponents' 1.09, with Lobjanidze's late miss coming from an opportunity valued at 0.16 xG.

    Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili said of Lobjanidze's chance: "He was the one who wanted to score most of all, but it didn't work out. 

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    Mamardashvili was named Man of the Match after making 11 saves, a tally that has only once been bettered in a Euros match since 1980, by Latvia's Alexanders Kolinko versus the Netherlands in 2004 (12).

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    Georgia and Czhecia will fight until the final matchday of Group F to progress to the last 16 after a 1-1 draw in Hamburg, where Saba Lobjanidze missed a golden chance late on.

    Patrik Schick, who shared the Golden Boot with Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2020, restored parity midway through the second half on Saturday, cancelling out Georges Mikautadze's opener from the penalty spot.

    Georgia's goal came on the stroke of half-time, after Robin Hranac was adjudged to have handled in Czechia's area after a VAR check.

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    Schick had no such trouble with the technology when he bundled home at the back post in the 59th minute, though.

    The Bayer Leverkusen striker hobbled off through injury soon after, and Czechia looked all set to slip to a second defeat right at the end when Georgia broke, only for Lobjanidze to fire over in a one-v-one with the final kick of the game.

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    The 28-year-old has the second-best goals per minute ratio (0.86) in Euros history, of players to play at least five times in the competition, with only Michel Platini (1.8).

  • Croatia v Italy: Spalletti looking for response from 'tired' Azzurri Croatia v Italy: Spalletti looking for response from 'tired' Azzurri

    Italy head coach Luciano Spalletti insists his side must improve on their display against Spain when they face Croatia in Leipzig next Monday. 

    The Azzurri's 10-game unbeaten run at the Euros came to an end at the hands of Luis de la Fuente's side after Riccardo Caliafiori's own goal in the second half. 

    During the defeat, Italy's lack of attacking threat was clear, registering their fewest shots in a game on record at the Euros (four).

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    "Maybe I needed to give them more rest, I probably need to give them more days off, we gave them a day and a half off in terms of rest and we saw that was the right decision in terms of our data," Spalletti said.

    "But there was too much of a gulf, we were constantly stretched, we probably didn't recover very well in terms of just how demanding and important the tournament was itself, because there was too much of a gulf in terms of sharpness and freshness."

    Italy have never lost consecutive games at the European Championships, but are faced with a side they have failed to beat in their previous eight encounters. 

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    Meanwhile, Croatia are on the verge of a surprise group-stage exit after picking up just one point so far.

    Head coach Zlatko Dalic has come in for criticism back home, despite having led the team to the 2018 World Cup final, 2022 World Cup semi-finals, and last year's Nations League final in an unprecedented spell of success.

    "We will do everything to prepare for Italy. I have learned some things in these seven years where there have been far more successes than failures," Dalic said. 

    "I'm also used to criticism. I always say it's my responsibility. I am aware that when medals are won, my role ‘means nothing’ and that I am there by accident, but that’s how it is in Croatia."

    Dalic stuck with his midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic against Albania, but replaced Brozovic at half-time with 21-year-old Luka Sucic, who impressed.

    "Those who deserve to play, play," Dalic said. "I choose with the staff what I think is best.

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    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Croatia - Luka Modric

    In what could be his final appearance for his nation at a major tournament, Modric continues to prove that age is just a number. The Real Madrid midfielder started his 15th game in the European Championships, with only Andres Iniesta (16) starting more often among midfielders in the history of the competition.

    His 20 line-breaking passes were the most of any player against Albania, and he became the oldest player on record (since 1980) to complete 100+ passes in a match at the European Championships (108 v Albania today, 38y 284d). 

     

    Italy - Gianluigi Donnarumma

    With the Italians' forward line restricted to just four shots against Spain in their last encounter, Donnarumma will be key to ensure they prevent conceding against Croatia. 

    The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper is set to make his 10th Euros appearance aged 25 years and 120 days on the day of the game, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to hit this milestone in European Championship history.

    MATCH PREDICTION: DRAW

    Even though Opta's model makes Italy marginal favourties, Croatia boast an impressive record against the Azzurri and will be looking to continue that record as they look to confirm their progression to the knockout stages. 

    Since gaining independence in the early 1990s, Croatia are unbeaten in their eight meetings against Italy (W3 D5). However, their last three games have all ended 1-1. 

    Dalic's side have not gone through a group stage without winning at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup (D2 L1). They have won their final group game at three of their last four major tournaments (D1) since losing 3-1 to Mexico at the 2014 World Cup.

    Croatia also boast an excellent record against the current reigning champions of the tournament. This will be their fifth against the current holders of the trophy, each coming in the group stages. 

    Since the group phase was introduced in 1980, Italy have lost their final group game in only one of their nine appearances at the UEFA European Championship (W6 D2), going down 1-0 against the Republic of Ireland in 2016.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Croatia - 32.6%

    Draw - 27.7%

    Italy - 39.7%

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