Napoli travel to Tuscany this weekend where they will face Paolo Zanetti’s Empoli side on Saturday afternoon from Stadio Carlo Castellani. Coach Luciano Spalletti emphasised the need to keep up the momentum and hard work in his pre-match press conference. “I’m not a superstitious person. I only think about the work that we’ve got to do with each game. It’ll be a very tough match tomorrow.”
Before speaking about the fixture, he shared a few thoughts on the loss of Italian TV icon Maurizio Costanzo. “I’ve only just heard the sad news. We’ve lost a TV host who made history. I send my sincere condolences to his family.”
Last year, Empoli inflicted one of the most disappointing defeats of the Azzurri’s season. Does that still play on your mind?
"Napoli have made important steps in response to this kind of defeat, both at the end of last year and during this season. It’s a difficult match because Empoli are a tight unit. They know how to play football. They have great players like Guglielmo Vicario, Fabiano Parisi and Tommaso Baldanzi, who we’ll see playing for big teams next year.
“We also know about the quality and experience of Sebastiano Luperto. They absolutely have a squad that can mix it against anyone. We must focus on ourselves and concentrate only on the game we have in front of us, like having tunnel vision.”
It’ll be a nostalgic trip for you.
“I’m really grateful to Empoli. I developed as a coach and player there. For me, they’re an example of a great footballing club. I was lucky to live in Empoli as a player and coach. It was an experience that proved formative for me in what was to come.”
Will you look to rotate any players? After the match in Europe, some of the players must be tired.
“The team had an extra day’s rest this week after Frankfurt to get their energy back. We have some great coaches who let me know how the players are doing both physically and mentally.
“We must make sure that we do not add to existing fatigue and that we use all our resources. However, by far the best antidote to recover our energy is securing a win. I have lots of quality players so it’s never easy to decide who to send out there.”
Can you feel the excitement around you, or do you not want to jinx it?
“I am not superstitious. I just focus on the work we do. We must concentrate on what we have to do because that’s our duty. We can’t crack open the bubbly at the moment because we have nothing to celebrate. We are taking our work seriously because we have a difficult match awaiting us tomorrow.
“Last year, the Empoli match was a negative turning point in our season. It was a devastating moment for us. That experience must teach us that we have a very difficult match ahead of us tomorrow. It’s important to understand the dangers we face. We’re not concerning ourselves with superstitions. We want to win and to do so, we need to be ready to give our all in every match.
“We mustn’t make any mistakes because we truly want to make our fans happy. We can’t let the excitement turn into over-confidence because over-confidence is the route to waning personal development.”
Are Napoli setting a footballing example on the international stage?
“I don’t know if we are setting an example. What I do know is that we must show what we can do on the pitch and play in a way that brings out the best in our team. We have unique players who are tough. This means we have a solid set-up and a clear identity.”
What did it mean to you to receive the Enzo Bearzot award? “It’s a really important award that makes me proud. Bearzot is someone who brought so much to Italian football and receiving this recognition make me feel stronger.”