Spalletti: Napoli 'playing for the happiness of a city' after win at Atalanta

By Sports Desk April 03, 2022

Napoli head coach Luciano Spalletti has said his team understands they are "playing for the happiness of a city" after an impressive 3-1 victory away to Atalanta put them level on points with Serie A leaders Milan.

A penalty from Lorenzo Insigne and a Matteo Politano free-kick saw the Naples side 2-0 up at half-time, only for Marten de Roon to halve the deficit just before the hour mark at Gewiss Stadium.

However, a well-taken goal on the counter-attack from Elif Elmas late on after neat work from Hirving Lozano was enough to secure the three points and give Napoli their third league win in a row.

The victory means Spalletti's men are on 66 points, the same as leaders Milan though having played a game more, with the Rossoneri hosting Bologna on Monday.

"We have come out of difficult situations this season, but at this point here, there is no turning back," Spalletti told DAZN after the win.

"We suffered again today, at the beginning of both halves, [but] the team began to turn and even when Atalanta responded, the team did not disunite, on the contrary, we went in search of the third goal, which shows how we have grown."

 

Napoli, who were missing star striker Victor Osimhen, have now scored eight penalties in a single Serie A campaign for the first time since they returned to the top-flight (from 2007/08).

It is their away record that has kept them in the race for the Scudetto, having now won 11 and lost just one of their 16 games on the road (D4).

However, Spalletti also acknowledged their home form, which has been less impressive, winning nine and losing four of their 15 games at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona (D2).

"There is still a long way to go, because we have lost too many points at home and we cannot let our guard down," he added.

"What these guys have understood is that they are playing for the happiness of a city."

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  • Phillips excited to work under 'one of the finest in the world' Guardiola after Man City move Phillips excited to work under 'one of the finest in the world' Guardiola after Man City move
    Kalvin Phillips is "incredibly excited" by the prospect of working under Pep Guardiola after completing his move to "world-class club" Manchester City on Monday.   The England midfielder joined from Leeds United on a six-year deal at the Etihad Stadium and is the Premier League champions' third signing of the window after Erling Haaland and Stefan Ortega.   Phillips had been with his home club since the age of 14 but the opportunity to work with one of the game's greatest coaches was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.   "City have again proved to be the best team in the country with an amazing squad and a manager in Pep Guardiola who is rightly considered to be the finest in the world," Phillips told the club's website.   "To be able to play under Pep and learn from him and his coaching staff as well as be part of a such a fantastic squad is a prospect that I am incredibly excited about.    "City are a world-class club with world-class staff and facilities and it’s a dream come true to have joined the club.    "Now I can't wait to get started and to look to try and help the team to go on and achieve more success."

    The departure of the midfielder brings to a close a 12-year association with Leeds, whom he came through the academy system with, and helped steer back to the Premier League in the 2019-2020 campaign.

    Phillips addressed the club and its supporters in a lengthy statement on social media shortly after the confirmation of his transfer, thanking them all and reserving additional praise for former boss Marcelo Bielsa.

    The Argentine, who guided Leeds back to the top-flight before he was relieved of duties earlier this year, is widely credited with turning the midfielder into one of the sharpest talents in the English game.

    "I would like to express how much of a privilege it has been to play for this amazing club," Phillips stated. "Since making my debut at 17, it has been a journey any Leeds lad could wish for.

    "When I was young, I went to see my first ever Leeds game at Elland Road and from that moment, I knew that my dream was to put on that white shirt and walk out on that pitch.

    "I'd like to thank everyone involved at the club for making Leeds one of the best clubs on earth. Every manager I have played under for showing trust in me and teaching me all I know.

    "I cannot mention Leeds without mentioning one special person - Marcelo. [You are] the best manager I have ever come across.

    "He was a man that gave the club life, he gave the players, and everyone involved in the club belief that we were good enough to return to the Premier League."

    Phillips' arrival at the Etihad Stadium came on the same day that Gabriel Jesus completed a £45million switch to Arsenal.

    Leeds also confirmed on Monday that 18-year-old midfielder Darko Gyabi has joined the club from City for an undisclosed fee in a separate deal to the one involving Phillips.

    The youngster played 10 times for City's Under-23 side last season and has been capped 12 times by England at youth level.

    Gyabi becomes Leeds' fourth signing of the window, following the arrivals of Brenden Aaronson, Rasmus Kristensen and Marc Roca.

  • Phillips, Guardiola and Man City a match made in heaven Phillips, Guardiola and Man City a match made in heaven

    When it comes to recruitment and squad construction, there aren't many clubs – if any – that are run more effectively than Manchester City.

    Their Premier League title success in the 2021-22 season was just another reminder of how good they are on the pitch, yet the people in charge are not the types to simply sit around admiring their achievements.

    Even before winning a fourth Premier League crown in five years – a feat only ever previously managed by Alex Ferguson's Manchester United – it was clear where City were going to strengthen.

    A deal for arguably the most sought-after striker in world football, Erling Haaland, was wrapped up two weeks before the season ended, and then with Fernandinho expected to depart, another central midfielder was to be the second priority.

    Kalvin Phillips proved to be the chosen one, with City confirming on Monday that the England international has completed his reported £45million move from Leeds United, having undergone a medical on Friday.

    It's an impressive statement by City, who have already bolstered their two primary problem areas – if you can call them that – by the first week of July.

    And with respect to Phillips' signing, there's a lot to suggest it's a shrewd acquisition.

     

    Moulded by Bielsa

    Of course, the most obvious – and arguably crucial – link here is Marcelo Bielsa. It was under the Argentinian coach that Phillips has played the best football of his career and cemented himself as an England regular.

    Bielsa is also considered one of Pep Guardiola's greatest inspirations, with an apparent 11-hour meeting between the pair back in 2006 said to have played a major role in the City boss' decision to go into management.

    The similarities between the two coaches' styles of play are significant, and this should facilitate a smooth transition for Phillips.

    Under Bielsa he'll have become accustomed to not only intense training sessions, but also a playing philosophy that revolves around possession-based football and relentless counter pressing.

    In terms of the latter, City are perhaps a little more considered in their efforts compared to Bielsa's Leeds, but either way Phillips has been exposed to the same fundamentals, and that can only be a tick in the pros column.

    After all, a second-season bounce has become commonplace for signings under Guardiola. Numerous players have needed a full campaign to truly get to grips with the demands required by the Catalan coach before going on to show significant improvement and growth thereafter – Phillips might be better-equipped than most to hit the ground running.

    But that brings up a separate issue; what will Phillips be to City?

    Rodri the immovable object

    Having come through Leeds' academy, established himself as a key player and then gone on to be a fulcrum in Bielsa's team, Phillips was the first name on the teamsheet – when fit – for several years at Elland Road.

    Regardless of his suitability for City, it seems unlikely he'll enjoy a similar status in Guardiola's team. Phillips is at his most effective as lone defensive midfielder, but so too is Rodri, and it's difficult to imagine the Spain international being suddenly taken out of the team given how effective he's proven to be.

    Rodri's 2,937 successful passes in the opposition's half since the start of the 2020-21 season is over 400 more than any other Premier League player, and his 577 ball recoveries over the same period is the joint-most alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, though the Dane has played almost 1,000 minutes more.

    Of course, who's to say Phillips couldn't play the role even more effectively? But the key thing to consider is that Rodri has an important function in both keeping City on the ball and then winning it back when they don't, and he demonstrably does both well.

    Nevertheless, Guardiola's proven he's a coach keen to rotate. He gave at least 900 minutes of Premier League football to 18 players last season, with only four teams bettering that, so Phillips can still expect plenty of game time.

    And, to be fair, Phillips might not have even been up to the task of being a regular starter for City given how much time he spent sidelined last season.

    A match made in heaven

    Clearly, then, Guardiola's rotation policy would suggest Phillips will have opportunities to deputise for Rodri and take up the back-up role vacated by Fernandinho, yet there's no doubt he possesses the skillset to also play alongside the former Atletico Madrid midfielder as well.

    First and foremost, he's a more progressive player than Rodri. Over the past two seasons, 28 per cent of Phillips' passes have been forward, the exact same figure as Fernandinho and a fair bit more than Rodri's 20 per cent.

    Similarly, in the same period Phillips has played 3.5 passes into the box every 90 minutes, whereas Rodri has averaged two, and his 1.0 dribble attempts each game is also slightly more than his new team-mate (0.9).

    But in a way it shouldn't necessarily matter which midfield role Phillips plays in, given he has a range of abilities that should suit him either as a number six or a number eight, especially in a Guardiola team.

    On top of that, Phillips doesn't turn 27 until December, so he is very much entering his prime years, and if anyone can squeeze every ounce of potential out of a player, it's Guardiola.

    Then when you consider Phillips' history with Bielsa and type of team he played in at Leeds, everything points to this being a match made in heaven.

  • Man City sign Phillips from Leeds on six-year deal Man City sign Phillips from Leeds on six-year deal

    Kalvin Phillips has signed for Manchester City from Leeds United in a deal that is reportedly worth up to £45million.

    City, who had already signed striker Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, were in the market for a holding midfielder to complement Rodri after Fernandinho confirmed he would be leaving the Premier League champions after nine years with the club.

    Phillips was identified as the ideal replacement and City have moved quickly to sign the England international, who has penned a six-year contract.

    It was reported last month that City and Leeds had agreed a fee of £42m, plus a further £3m in add-ons, and the move was officially confirmed on Monday.

    City director of football Txiki Begiristain said: "Kalvin is a player that we have long admired, and at both domestic and international level, he has proved his fantastic ability and quality over the past few seasons. 

    "His reading of the game, alongside his passing ability, energy and drive make him a formidable talent and he is a player who has a fantastic will to win. 

    "We feel he will be a superb addition to our squad and that he will complement our game perfectly. 

    "Everyone here is looking forward to watch Kalvin play and develop even further over the next few years."

    Phillips came through Leeds' academy and helped the Whites back into the Premier League under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa after a 16-year absence from the top flight.

    The 26-year-old was an integral part of Leeds' success in their first season back in the big time, making 29 appearances as Bielsa's side finished ninth, and the midfielder went on to start every game for England at Euro 2020, with Gareth Southgate's team losing to Italy on penalties in the final.

    However, Phillips' impact was limited in the 2021-22 season as he struggled with injury. He returned for the run-in as Leeds – under Bielsa's replacement Jesse Marsch – managed to stave off relegation.

    Despite only playing 20 league games, he ranked third in ball recoveries (180) among Leeds outfield players while also recording the sixth most tackles (54).

    He will hope to help Pep Guardiola's side retain the league title as well as deliver the club's first Champions League crown after disappointing final and semi-final defeats in the past two years.

    Phillips' arrival at the Etihad Stadium came on the same day that forward Gabriel Jesus completed a £45m switch to fellow Premier League side Arsenal.

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