Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti looked ahead to the Azzurri’s first match back after the international break in a press conference on Saturday. They will face the Rossoneri at the Stadio Maradona, but they will have to do so without their talisman Victor Osimhen. “We’ve got a triple-header coming up against Milan. Being without Osimhen is a big blow, but Giovanni Simeone has proven his worth. He’s a striker who can use his head or his feet.”
Stefano Pioli said that Napoli have won seven games without Osimhen:
“It’s true. When we’re without Victor, the team have been able to make up for it and come out winners. We always approach our games in the Napoli way and players like Cholito have also made a huge difference this year.
“This team can handle anyone being missing because everyone has given something extra this year and we’ve played really well, even when facing top opposition.
“I’ll reiterate that losing Osimhen is a big blow, but Simeone can play with his head or his feet. Right from the start, he took on the role he was meant to have and when someone is intelligent, they manage to make their mark even when they don’t get much opportunity.
“In terms of the way we’ll play, not much will change. Giovanni can go deep, protect the ball, be involved in great link-up play and score goals. Obviously, Osimhen is very quick, and you don’t get them much quicker than that.
“This year, Simeone deserved to get more minutes than he has, but it’s tough when you have such a star like Osimhen in the squad too.
“We are confident. They’re a triple threat because they’re the reigning champions, they eliminated Tottenham in the Champions League and they’ve strengthened their squad since becoming the Italian champions. We’re fully aware that we’re facing a very good side. “Milan gave us trouble both last year and this year when we played them. We know how good they are and what strength in depth they have in their squad. They’re a team who can play it out from the back but who can open games up by kicking it long and hitting on the counter. They also have a striker who is a real threat in the area. Pioli knows how good his team are.”
Will it also be a psychological test, given that you have three games against them in three weeks?
“I’m curious to see the two Champions League matches especially, because the Champions League is a real source of motivation. I’m expecting my players to show great character and mentality to do well whatever the situation.”
How is Raspadori doing?
“Raspadori is available. He’ll be on the bench to begin with tomorrow, but he’ll be ready to come on whenever necessary.”
How does it feel seeing Naples covered in flags?
“Seeing Napoli flags everywhere fills us with joy. We’re not there yet because it’s all still to be decided. We’re focused on what happens on the pitch and we won’t lose sight of what we still need to do.
“We don’t think we’ve won it already. We’re not thinking of the games to come or the following year. We’re focused only on the match ahead of us. We must keep our heads in the game.”
Aside from Osimhen, how are the players doing who returned from international duty?
“The truth is that they often come back feeling tired or carrying injuries. We can’t do much about that. All I can do is speak to them when they go and I make sure to do this. You do however have to deal with the fatigue and fitness they come back with. It’s not just us who have to deal with this but all the top teams.”
How Neapolitan do you feel at this stage?
“I’ve become Neapolitan as far as trying to learn the dialect perfectly. Right now, I only understand half the words but I’m learning because I want to speak Neapolitan really well. It’s a wonderful city and a place where you can live life to the full, even though at the moment, we must stay completely focused and not expend our energy on anything other than achieving a real milestone for this city.”
A group of fans have said that the Curve stands will remain silent to protest how expensive the tickets are.
“Everything we have achieved so far is thanks to our fans. A range of factors have contributed to our successes and we suffer if even one of them is missing.
“I understand that you make sacrifices to buy tickets, but protesting in this way and not supporting the team is almost as big a blow as losing Osimhen. From my perspective, it’s not right to punish the team, but I’d like to thank those who make efforts to support us in the stands.”
Pioli also said that no team is unbeatable, not even Napoli.
“He’s right, what can I say? Perfect and unbeatable teams do not exist. I’m convinced that Napoli have followed the right path over these last two years. We just need to look at what happened last year to see whether our success is down to the limitations of our opponents or based on our own merit.
“At this time last year, the team in second were only four or five points behind the leaders and their points average was the same today’s current runners up. The fact that we are 20 points ahead is therefore down to us and not the failures of our opponents, as I often read or hear people say. Credit must go to Napoli.”