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Are Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli the best team in European soccer right now?

This season threatened to be a difficult one for Napoli. Several key players including Kalidou Koulibaly, Fabian Ruiz, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens left the club. Luciano Spalletti’s team, which sat top of Serie A for much of last season, appeared to have reached the end of a cycle. Fans were braced for a rebuild.

That rebuild took place over the summer, but few predicted it would deliver such immediate results. Two months into the 2022/23 season and Napoli might just be the strongest team in European soccer right now. Not only are they sitting at the top of the Serie A table, they have won all four of their Champions League fixtures so far.

It’s not just that Napoli have started the season well. It’s that they are currently the most exhilarating, entertaining team in the sport. No Serie A team has scored as many goals as Spalletti’s this season with Napoli also leading the goals tally in the Champions League having netted an astonishing 17 times in just four games.

Ajax, Liverpool and Rangers have all been comprehensively turned over by Napoli this season. Their victory over Liverpool was particularly eye-catching as Jurgen Klopp’s side suffered a 4-1 defeat that accurately reflected the balance of the match. The Italians could have scored more than just four as they cut through Liverpool at will.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has quickly earned himself a reputation as one of the most exciting young players in Europe, registering seven goals and six assists in just 15 appearances. The Georgian is a perpetual threat down the left side of Napoli’s attack, forcing opposition defenders into difficult positions and decisions. He is relentless.

An injury to Victor Osimhen could have derailed Napoli’s strong start to the season. After all, the Nigerian is the apex around which Spalletti has built his attack. However, Napoli scored no fewer than 19 goals in the six games Osimhen was sidelined for, as the likes of Giacomo Raspadori and Giovani Simeone stepped up.

Napoli’s attacking depth is unparalleled in Serie A and could give them a genuine chance of winning the Champions League for the first time this season. Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia, Raspadori, Simeone, Matteo Politano, Hirving Lozano and Piotr Zielinski all appear to be in top form. Only Empoli and Fiorentina have managed to keep a clean sheet against Napoli so far this season.

“I am very happy, honestly, but we need to win the next one, because if we then lose our focus or lose the right way to think about things, then we’re in trouble,” Spalletti said when asked to assess the start Napoli have made to the season. The 63-year-old is an experienced operator and knows his team have yet to win anything. Good starts count for nothing if they aren’t paired with a good finish.

That has been the problem for Napoli in recent seasons. They enjoyed a similarly impressive start to the 2021/22 campaign, but faded over the winter and ultimately finished third behind AC Milan and Inter. Spalletti’s team were hindered by a series of injuries to a number of important players and couldn’t sustain their level over the full season.

This season feels different, though. Napoli are playing with such a strong sense of self-identity that Spalletti is able to rotate his squad without much of a drop-off game-to-game. The speed and intensity of their play has been astonishing and Napoli now have the depth to maintain this for more than a few matches at a time.

“Systems no longer exist in football, it’s all about the spaces left by the opposition,” Spalletti said when asked to explain his outlook on the game and how Napoli play under his stewardship. “You must be quick to spot them and know the right moment to strike, have the courage to start the move even when pressed.”

Despite being widely seen as one of the best Italian coaches of his generation, Spalletti has never won a Scudetto before. This season represents his best chance of getting his hands on the trophy with AC Milan, Inter, Roma and Juventus all struggling for consistent form over the early part of the campaign.

Not since the days of Diego Maradona have Napoli won Serie A. Something special happened back then and there’s the sense that something special is happening again. Napoli are top of the pile because they deserve to be. If the past two months is anything to go by, they’re unstoppable – and a trophy, inevitable. 

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