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

Published : Wednesday, 21 February, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 108

MILAN, FEB 20: 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 Napolis 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, Wednesdays 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 seasons revamped Champions League are slim, even if Italy wins a fifth spot.
Calzonas 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 Mazzarris matches in all competitions.
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.
"Its 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 Spallettis 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 Mazzarris brief second spell in charge of southern Italys biggest club.
Mazzarri brought Napoli out from the doldrums between 2009 and 2013, winning the Italian Cup to claim the clubs first trophy in over two decades.
He left in May 2013 after finishing second in Italys 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.    —AFP

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