While the Partenopei could not quite win against Spartak Moscow on November 24, a day to the commemoration, they face Lazio on home turf looking to mark the occasion by securing maximum points.
Away from the aforementioned, Maurizio Sarri’s return to his old stomping ground ought to dominate the pre-match headlines. The 62-year-old may be at Lazio these days, having experienced English football at Chelsea and returned to Italy for a one-year stint with Juventus.
The former Empoli boss has never quite had a team play as cohesively as his Napoli crew in the mid-to-late 2010s and his final season at the club — 2017/18 — arguably represented peak Sarri-ball.
Indeed, when his Lazio side take to the pitch on Sunday, it is interesting that Dries Mertens — the player deployed in a central striking role under Sarri after Gonzalo Higuain’s departure to Juventus — could be utilized down the middle in Naples.
Having said that, while the then-Napoli boss’ decision to make use of the Belgian in that role was by design, whatever Luciano Spalletti does on Sunday — and indeed for the next three months at least — has been enforced by Victor Osimhen’s extended layoff.
The Nigerian’s absence will cause a sharp shift in the Partenopei’s approach as the alternatives are of dissimilar profiles.
Mertens is a diminutive forward capable of playing across the frontline, while the heavily-built Andrea Petagna does not offer the mobility of the West African, despite probably aiding the side’s ball retention.
In fairness, Spalletti is not alien to finding solutions in that position, and the former Roma trainer’s past has shown his capabilities in getting frontmen of different profiles firing in attack.
Be that as it may, Napoli will undoubtedly be forced to play differently without Osimhen, and the upshot remains to be seen.
The aforementioned situation resonates with Sarri, albeit to a lesser extent, having had his star striker Ciro Immobile missing in action for last week’s 2-0 defeat by Juventus.
Italy’s main striker could not feature against Massimiliano Allegri’s team that defended rather well to end Lazio’s 19-game unbeaten home streak in Serie A.
For context, Immobile had netted in 13 of those games, reflective of his importance to the Biancocelesti.
While he can be on the receiving end of censure in the Italian press and abroad, his importance to the Rome outfit is unquantifiable.
“It’s not easy to find an alternative to someone who scores 35-40 goals,” confessed Sarri after last week’s defeat by Juventus. “You can’t find someone who can guarantee Ciro’s tally.”
The league’s joint-top scorer has contributed 10 of Lazio’s top flight goals, accounting for 40 percent of the side’s return in 2021/22. Throw in the forward’s two assists and it increases to 48 percent, beaten by only Dusan Vlahovic, who has had a hand in 50 percent of Fiorentina’s goals, in the league’s top half.
Osimhen’s 19 percent contribution may not reflect an overdependence, but the industry of the Super Eagle out of possession, combined with his movement and speed that terrorised defenders in the opening months will be missed.
While one man in the dugout will rue the absence of his final-third spearhead on Sunday, another will welcome the timely return of his prized asset as Lazio strive to halt a five-game winless run on their travels.
Seye Omidiora is a passionate football writer and pundit whose deep appreciation for the beautiful game exceeds the usual. He is currently a columnist for Goal Africa and has previously written for Vital Football UK, IBCity Info and Opera News.
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