All change again at crisis club Napoli as Barcelona come to town


All change again at crisis club Napoli as Barcelona come to town

New Napoli manager Francesco Calzona
New Napoli manager Francesco CalzonaAFP
Napoli are once again trying to start afresh as they face Barcelona in the Champions League after sacking their second manager of a disastrous season.

With the Italian champions ninth in Serie A and in a worse position than they were under the first casualty of this wretched campaign, Rudi Garcia, Walter Mazzarri was sacked on Monday night after just three months in charge.

To replace him Napoli's outspoken owner Aurelio De Laurentiis has plumped for Slovakia coach Francesco Calzona, who has the daunting task of Barca at home for his first match in charge of a top-tier club.

As well as being a glamourous fixture, Wednesday's last 16, first-leg clash is a key match for Napoli as the competition is their only chance to grab some glory from a season in which their defence of a historic third league title has long since ended.

Napoli are a whopping 27 points behind league leaders Inter Milan and their chances of qualifying into next season's revamped Champions League are slim, even if Italy wins a fifth spot.

Calzona's new team are nine points behind both fourth-placed Atalanta and Bologna in fifth, and have shown little sign of being able to claw back that gap, failing to score in nine of Mazzarri's matches in all competitions.

Napoli's recent form
Napoli's recent formFlashscore

But Victor Osimhen should be newly available as he continued his post-Africa Cup of Nations comeback in training on Monday.

Before being sacked Mazzarri said that he "hoped" Osimhen would be able to start against Barca as Napoli have been struggling to score.

"It's always painful to sack a friend," said De Laurentiis in a short interview with Sky Sport on Monday, but Mazzarri won just four of 12 Serie A matches since taking over, collecting 15 points.

That is even less than the 21 that Garcia managed from his 12 league matches in charge, a total that had Napoli fourth when the Frenchman was dismissed.

Calzona, who has guided Slovakia to Euro 2024, has been charged by De Laurentiis with giving Napoli army of fans "something extra" to get them back onside.

The 55-year-old faces a huge job at the club where he was an assistant under Maurizio Sarri and during Luciano Spalletti's trophy-less first season with the club.

The 55-year-old Calzona will reportedly keep his job with Slovakia while also trying to drag Napoli back up the table after the disappointing end to Mazzarri's brief second spell in charge of southern Italy's biggest club.

Mazzarri brought Napoli out from the doldrums between 2009 and 2013, winning the Italian Cup to claim the club's first trophy in over two decades.

He left in May 2013 after finishing second in Italy's top flight with a thrilling team which boasted Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani in attack.

Now Napoli have entrusted a former assistant with salvaging something from this season, a choice which is unlikely to inspire fans who have watched their team crash and burn from the highest of heights.


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