We’re four games into the Champions League group stage and Napoli are flying at the top of Group A, having amassed12 points, scoring 17 goals and conceding just four. That’s quite a start considering that they have played Liverpool, Rangers and Ajax twice.
Ok, maybe not that tough against Rangers.
It’s not just the fact they’re winning, either. It’s how they’re doing it. Liverpool were probably quite fortunate to get the one during their 4-1 defeat at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Meanwhile Ajax’s thrashing on their own turf – 6-1 at the Johan Cruyff Arena – was their heaviest defeat since 1964 and the joint-largest home loss in their entire history.
To put it simply, teams are being swatted aside by Napoli at the moment and Luciano Spalletti has the storied Italian club playing attacking football with the kind of bravura worthy of all their very best sides in the past. Perhaps even the man their stadium is named after. This is despite the considerable rebuilding job he was faced with in the summer.
It’s not easy to lose your captain. Or your vice-captain. Or your all-time record goal scorer. It’s unthinkable to lose all three in one window. Yet despite Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly and Dries Mertens all moving on, Napoli have stormed out of the blocks and currently look more dangerous than any other team in Europe so far this season.
Signed for not much more than €10m from Dinamo Batumi, the powerhouse Georgian winger is already being called the deal of the summer and has taken to Napoli’s suddenly vacant left flank – manned by Insigne for a decade – like mozzarella to tomato.
What people might overlook is the fact the transfer was only made possible at such a price due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which meant FIFA allowed players in the Russian Premier League to terminate their contracts early and sign elsewhere.
Kvaratskhelia chose to leave Rubin Kazan and return home to Georgia, where he scored eight times in 11 appearances and was named best player during the latter half of the season. Despite making the difficult leap up to Serie A and the Champions League football as a 21-year-old his form hasn’t shown any signs of slowing after nine goals in 15 appearances for club and country since August.
Between the nickname, the ankle socks and the fearless way he carries the ball into waves of defenders only to come out with it still stuck to his feet on the other side, it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about.
Ostensibly Dries Merten’s replacement, Giacomo Raspadori was signed from Sassuolo after hitting double figures in league goals for the Neroverdi last season. He can play anywhere along the front three or as a pure number 10 but seems most at home as something of a false nine in Napoli’s system, showcased by his four goals and one assist in only 127 minutes of action in the Champions League thus far.
Quick, two-footed and technical, Raspadori has already drawn comparisons to just about every (very good) diminutive centre-forward you can think of. Still just 22 and with five goals in 15 appearances to his name for the national team, it does appear as though Raspadori has all the ability to lead the line for both Napoli and the Azzurri in the years to come.
Familiar to any reasonably thorough Football Manager player, Kim Min-jae made his long-awaited move to a top five league this summer, recruited by Aurelio De Laurentiis for a fee of €18m after a single season of football in the Turkish Super League.
Unlike the two players above him, Kim is less of a spring chicken at 25 years of age and with 44 international caps to his name. Beyond that, he has played the vast majority of his club football to date in Asia, meaning that he was probably considered something of a gamble when Fenerbahce prised him from Beijing Guoan last year – hence the bargain price of €3m at the time.
There are no such doubts about his ability now. Imposing in stature but with the footspeed, intelligence and ball-playing elegance that Harry Maguire can only dream of, Kim is the complete defender and has slotted into Spalletti’s backline so effortlessly that the loss of Koulibaly has barely been felt.
There’s no greater testament to a defender’s importance than their amount of game time. Kim has played every minute of all but a single game for Napoli since joining. And during all those minutes he’s been utterly imperious. Long may it all continue in Naples.