Napoli

Napoli – Leicester's First UEL Opponents

Italian giants Napoli await Leicester City on matchday one in the 2021/22 UEFA Europa League group stage on Thursday evening.
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The Foxes, who are embarking on their second successive European campaign, welcome Gli Azzurri to Filbert Way on Thursday for an 8pm kick-off. The Naples club will arrive in Leicester after winning their first three matches in Serie A, a record shared only by Roma and AC Milan.

Ahead of that encounter at Leicester City Stadium, LCFC.com provides the lowdown on the two-time Italian champions...

Luciano Spalletti – A manager with real pedigree 

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Luciano Spalletti
Luciano Spalletti

Former Roma and Inter Milan manager Luciano Spalletti joined Napoli in the summer and has overseen three wins in Serie A.

Certaldo-born former midfielder Luciano Spalletti joined Napoli as manager in May of this year, replacing Gennaro Gattuso, after leaving Inter Milan two years earlier. Throughout the 62-year-old's career in the dugout, Spalletti has won several major honours in the game, predominantly in Italy.

After ending his playing career at Empoli, he took up the managerial post at the Tuscany club in 1994, eventually leading them to consecutive promotions from Serie C1 to Serie A. Spells with Sampdoria, Venezia and two at Udinese - either side of a brief time at Ancona - added to his acumen in the game. 

After guiding Udinese to a UEFA Champions League berth in 2005, Spalletti headed to Rome, winning two Coppa Italia titles and a single Supercoppa Italiana prize with a side which included the likes of Cristian Chivu, Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti. 

Consecutive Serie A Coach of the Year awards soon followed in 2006 and 2007. In 2009, meanwhile, he was lured to Russia to manage Zenit Saint Petersburg – winning the Russian Premier League in 2010 and 2012, alongside Russian Cup and Russian Super Cup triumphs in 2010 and 2011 respectively. 

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Luciano Spalletti
Luciano Spalletti

Success came for Luciano Spalletti in Russia with Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Spalletti's return to Roma for the 2016/17 campaign was a contentious one with a very public disagreement with Totti leading to the Italian great being dropped and, despite an encouraging second-placed finish in Serie A, the gregarious manager departed Stadio Olimpico at the end of the season.

Inter Milan was next up for Spalletti and, 16 weeks into his first year at the San Siro, the Milan side sat top of the table, undefeated in the league. They would eventually finish fourth, which was still a success in the grand scheme of things, representing Inter's first qualification for the Champions League in six years. 

He would again guide the club to UCL qualification the next season, but he was to leave Inter in the following summer, leading to a two-year sabbatical from the game, before taking up the managerial role at Napoli which had been vacated by Gattuso at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

The European record – Regulars on the continental stage

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Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona and his Napoli team-mates toast the club's UEFA Cup triumph in 1989.

Regular entrants in the UEFA Champions League, Gli Azzurri are also former winners of the UEFA Cup in 1989. One of the goalscorers in that final success over VfB Stuttgart offers a window into Napoli's standing in the game – the one and only Diego Maradona. 

For the past 15 seasons, Napoli have competed in some form of European competition every year. The names Marek Hamšík, Gonzalo Higuaín and Edinson Cavani are synonymous with Napoli's European credentials over recent years.

Like the Foxes, Napoli competed in last term's Europa League too, winning a group which included Real Sociedad, AZ Alkmaar and HNK Rijeka. Their European venture ended in disappointing circumstances, however, as Granada secured a 3-2 aggregate victory in the Round of 32. 

Domestically, meanwhile, Napoli - full name Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli - have lifted the Italian title twice, in 1987 and 1990. They are six-time winners of the Coppa Italia, most recently in 2020, after overcoming Juventus on penalties. Their trophy cabinet also includes two Supercoppa Italianas. 

The squad – Genuine Serie A contenders

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Napoli
Napoli

There is a real sense of optimism that the Naples club can enjoy a successful campaign in Serie A this term.

Naples locals have high hopes for their side in 2021/22. Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne is a name which immediately stands out, after helping Italy lift the UEFA EURO 2020 title in the summer, alongside club team-mates Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Alex Meret.

Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly, on the other hand, is also regarded as one of the best centre-backs in Europe and has regularly been linked with the biggest teams in England. Dries Mertens, too, offers real attacking flair and is an international team-mate of Youri Tielemans and Timothy Castagne.

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Kalidou Koulibaly
Kalidou Koulibaly

Defender Kalidou Koulibaly is a player with a big reputation in the European game.

Striker Victor Osimhen, signed for a reported €70M fee in the summer of 2020 from Lille, also presents a threat up front and he scored 10 goals in all competitions last term. Unsurprisingly, Insigne topped the charts in 2020/21, with 19 goals, while Mexican Hirving Lozano also hit 15.

Matteo Politano, Piotr Zieliński and Mertens also reached double figures. Politano was the Naples club's top appearance-maker, with a mammoth 50 in total, while defender Di Lorenzo was just one behind. It all helped Napoli finish fifth last term, one point adrift of Juventus in the final UCL spot.

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Dries Mertens
Dries Mertens

Belgium international Dries Mertens adds a splash of attacking flair to Napoli's ranks.

So far this term, on the other hand, Luciano Spalletti's side have earned a 100 per cent record in Serie A, following early successes over Venezia and Genoa with a hugely impressive 2-1 home win over Juventus on Saturday, with Politano and Koulibaly on the scoresheet in Naples.

Tickets remain on sale for Thursday's clash on Filbert Way – click HERE to buy!

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