Ahead of Saturday’s clash with Napoli, we reached out to our sister site the Siren’s Song and had a quick chat with writer Marek Salanski, who gave us the view from the other side of the aisle. Anyways, here’s the result; he answered our stupid questions with intelligent and thoughtful stuff, so we officially like him. I tried to provide cogent responses to his prompts as well, and you can see that side of the chat over there.
Viola Nation: What’s the feeling in the Napoli camp right now, do you think? Are the players focused, or has yet another season of being the obvious second-best in the league (to some garbage team from Turin) and dropping out of the Champions League early left these players a bit disinterested? Adding in the really bizarre Marek Hamšík transfer brouhaha, will Napoli be focused or distracted?
Marek Salanski: It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for Napoli. Two poor performances against Milan followed by a great showing against Sampdoria only to find out this was club legend Marek Hamsik’s last match (probably?). It certainly hurts getting knocked out of both the Champions League and Coppa Italia relatively early, but with that said, I think the players realize there’s still a lot to play for. We’re among the favorites to win the Europa League and let’s not forget that Serie A isn’t over yet even if our chances seem slim. Juventus look incredibly vulnerable without Bonucci and Chiellini and I wouldn’t be shocked if they continue to drop points here and there. Napoli also have a somewhat easier schedule than Juventus to close out the season with more big matches at home so you never know.
Another reason I’m hopeful the team will remain focused is that Carlo Ancelotti is a proven man manager. I’m sure this Hamsik transfer saga pales in comparison to some of the drama he’s had to oversee at Real Madrid and PSG.
VN: How does everyone feel about Carlo Ancelotti? He started the season brilliantly and seems to have put some squad rotations in place that Maurizio Sarri never would have gone for, but that 9-point gap is even worse than Sarri did last year. Are folks willing to give him a bit of a pass on his first year and hope for bigger things next year, or is Aurelio di Laurentiis’ hand already hovering near the red button?
MS: I’d say most realistic fans probably expected a drop off from Napoli’s 91 point campaign last season and are relatively pleased with the Job Ancelotti’s done so far. The fact that we’re 2nd in the table and on pace to have roughly as many points as last season is a testament to the job he’s done so far taking over from Sarri. Let’s also not forget that Napoli lost some key players this summer in Jorginho and Pepe Reina. So I don’t think De Laurentiis is anywhere near putting his new manager on the hot seat. A lot of people assume that the reason the Partenopei fell apart at the end of last season was because the starters were burnt out from a lack of rest. Using this logic, Ancelotti’s decision to rotate heavily should pay off here at the end of the season but only time will tell.
With I’ll of that said I have to admit that there’s definitely a certain level of apathy surrounding the fanbase right now after coming so close to the title last year and being an Alisson save away from playing in the knockout stages of the Champions League this year. The San Paulo holds 60,000 fans but lately we’re lucky just to get 20,000 in attendance. De Laurentiis even called out the Napoli fans earlier this week saying that he’s disappointed in the fans for not representing the city by going to games.
VN: We all got so used to Sarri-ball for the past few years that it’s weird to see Napoli playing a different style. What do you think the tactical approach will be on Saturday? After seeing the Viola hammer AS Roma’s high defensive line in the Coppa Italia, then get lucky to get a goal against a very deep and compact Udinese, will the Partenopei change tacks and drop deep away from home, or will they be their usual aggressive, proactive selves?
MS: I don’t think this Napoli team knows how to play a defensive style of football. The only match this season where it looked as if they were trying to sit back and attack on the counter was against Liverpool at Anfield and we all know how that turned out. That was one of the only matches this season where Napoli had less possession than the opponent. Even against Juventus earlier this season, where Napoli lost 3-1, the Partenopei still had the higher possession percentage. I don’t expect this to be any different on Saturday which I’ll admit does make me nervous when I see Muriel and Chiesa in the opposing lineup. The only thing that gives me comfort is knowing that we’ll have a healthy and in form Koulibaly on our side.
VN: Who’s been in really good form of late that Fiorentina fans should watch out for? Who’s the biggest threat? Conversely, who’s underwhelmed in recent matches?
MS: When I look at these two teams, the only place I see that Napoli have a clear advantage is in the midfield. For this reason, I think Fiorentina fans will have to watch out for Fabian Ruiz and Piotr Zielinski. Ruiz has been a revelation this season and should be back in the starting lineup after serving a one-match suspension (for a ridiculous handball call I might add). Zielinski on the other hand is in his third season at Napoli but has really become a regular starter under Ancelotti (more appearances in all competitions than any other Napoli player). Zielinski was viewed by many as Hamsik’s heir but Ancelotti has moved him from his usual spot in the center of midfield to a wider position which has seemed to pay off.
Although he looked decent against Sampdoria last week, center back Nikola Maksimovic (not to be confused with your Serbian defender) has looked very shaky this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ancelotti decides to go with the veteran Albiol instead on Saturday given who they’re up against.
VN: Are there any Fiorentina players that you’re particularly worried about facing? Any matchups on the pitch that you think will be particularly interesting to watch?
MS: This may be the obvious answer, but I’ve got to go with Chiesa assuming he’s playing out on the right wing. The idea of Chiesa and his insane work-rate going up against Mario Rui is a terrifying prospect. Rui is decent going forward but his defending leaves a lot to be desired and he doesn’t have the speed to make up for his mistakes against players like Chiesa and Muriel.
VN: Okay, prediction time: what’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’s the overall pattern of the match?
MS: It pains me to say this, but I’m going to go with Fiorentina 3, Napoli 2. Maybe it’s still just the painful memories of the last time Napoli travelled to Florence, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this game especially after watching Fiorentina destroy Roma. Early goals from Chiesa prove to be too much for Napoli to overcome despite a late Milik free kick. I have no idea if any of this will happen but I’d be shocked if we don’t see plenty of goals in this one.
Thanks, Marek! We all really hope that you’re right about that final scoreline.