While Cristiano Ronaldo is still figuring out how to score past Italian league defenders, Napoli is picking up right where it left off from last season.
Only two rounds of Serie A are completed but Napoli is again shaping up as Juventus’ top challenger.
The southern club has come from behind to win both of its opening two matches, against quality opponents in Lazio and AC Milan.
Carlo Ancelotti showed off his veteran coaching credentials with a change in tactics for the second half of a 3-2 win over Milan on Saturday.
Dries Mertens was put on for midfielder Marek Hamsik as a fourth forward and scored the winner to cap a comeback from two goals down.
Ancelotti also promoted Piotr Zielinski to a full starter role after the Poland midfielder was kept as a first-choice reserve all of last season under former coach Maurizio Sarri, who left for Chelsea.
“Ancelotti told us that this year every player will be used when he’s in good shape,” said Zielinski, who scored a brace against Milan. “I’m happy to have given my contribution so far.”
Zielinski’s first goal against Milan was scored with his right foot and his second with his left.
“Many people tell me I ought to shoot more with either foot and I will try to do that this season,” Zielinski said. “When I was a kid, I was right-footed, but my father made me use the left more to get it up to speed.”
Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina was partly responsible for both of Milan’s goals, meaning Ancelotti may promote Orestis Karnezis for next weekend’s match at Sampdoria.
Napoli signed goalkeeper Alex Meret from Udinese in July for a reported fee of 25 million euros (now $29 million) to replace the departed Pepe Reina but Meret remains out with an injured arm.
Reina and midfielder Jorginho — who followed Sarri to Chelsea — were the only significant departures for Napoli during the offseason, keeping together a unit that produced consistently spectacular football last season.
“You can tell that we trust each other and have been together for many years,” defender Kalidou Koulibaly said. “We know that we can turn situations around, but at the same time we shouldn’t get ourselves in those positions in the first place.”
Gennaro Gattuso was outcoached by Ancelotti, his former manager when he was a Milan player.
“The biggest regret is that after (Napoli’s) goal for 2-1, we simply disappeared from the game,” Gattuso said. “I take full responsibility, because if the team is afraid, then that is the fault of the coach. We just switched off after the first mistake and that also happened many times last season.”
Milan also showed an inability to set up prized acquisition Gonzalo Higuain with scoring chances.
While much has been made of Ronaldo’s inability to score in Juventus’ opening two matches, it’s worth remembering that he also didn’t score in Real Madrid’s opening three Spanish league matches last season — even though he did score in other competitions for Madrid during that spell.
While Juventus players were given a day off following a 2-0 win over Lazio, Ronaldo was back at work. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner tweeted a picture of himself stretching in the gym on Sunday morning.
Dazn, the online platform that has exclusive rights to three Serie A matches in Italy each round, is having trouble meeting the overwhelming demand for its services.
Local media report that subscribers paying 9.99 euros per month have been hit with blurry pictures and delays.
Dazn holds domestic rights to the coveted Saturday night matches, such as Napoli-AC Milan this past weekend.
SERIE B BYE WEEKS
Serie B began this weekend with 19 teams as opposed to the usual 22 due to the bankruptcies of Avellino, Bari and Cesena.
As a result, one club will rest each round.
The status of the second division prompted Italian Olympic Committee head Giovanni Malago to push this week for reducing Serie A from 20 to 16 clubs.
“It seems to be that almost all football sporting directors in recent years have agreed reform of the leagues is the mother of all battles,” Malago said.
“It’s not up to me to say whether we start from Serie A, Serie B or the minor leagues, but clearly the system cannot handle the number of teams that we got accustomed to. There are clubs that cannot sustain the costs of operating and it has a knock-on effect for the rest of the system.”