Soccer-Calzona bids to launch Napoli revival at Cagliari

Soccer Football - Champions League - Round of 16 - First Leg - Napoli v FC Barcelona - Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, Italy - February 21, 2024 Napoli coach Francesco Calzona reacts REUTERS/Ciro De Luca/ File photo

(Reuters) - Champions Napoli made their second managerial change of the season this week and Francesco Calzona's job of taking them back up the Serie A table begins with a trip to Cagliari on Sunday.

Calzona is no stranger to the club, having worked there as assistant manager to Maurizio Sarri and Luciano Spalletti, and although their Scudetto title defence may already be over, there is still plenty to play for.

Walter Mazzarri's return to the Napoli job after 10 years ended in failure, but Calzona has the advantage of having worked with most of his squad during the 2021-22 season.

Rudi Garcia was dismissed in November with six wins from 12 league games and Napoli 10 points adrift of leaders Inter Milan in fourth. Mazzarri came in, but after four wins from his 12 league matches they are now in an even worse position.

Napoli are ninth in the standings, the top three well out of sight, and nine points off a Champions League qualification place, which is the best they can realistically hope to achieve this season.

Calzona needs to get Napoli scoring again after they netted only nine times in 12 league games under Mazzarri and were held scoreless in their last five away matches.

The return of Victor Osimhen will certainly boost Calzona's chances after Mazzarri had to do without the Nigerian striker for his last nine games in charge, mainly because of international duty.

Calzona, who performed a minor miracle by guiding Slovakia to Euro 2024, needs to inject enthusiasm into the Napoli squad by playing more attractive football and adopting a settled system.

Claudio Ranieri's Cagliari are in desperate need of points, four league wins all season leaving them second bottom and deep in a relegation battle. After four consecutive losses they earned a 1-1 draw at Udinese last weekend.

Inter Milan have opened up a commanding lead at the top, with Juventus nine points behind having played a game more, and Simone Inzaghi's side are at Lecce on Sunday, a team with one win in nine games.

Juventus cannot afford any more slip-ups after four matches without a win when they host Frosinone on Sunday.

AC Milan failed to take advantage of Juve's poor run and move into second place when they lost 4-2 at Monza last weekend. Stefano Pioli's side, two points behind Juventus, host fourth- placed Atalanta on Sunday.

Atalanta, seven points adrift of Milan with a game in hand, are level on 45 points with Bologna who host Verona on Friday.

AS Roma bounced back from their loss to Inter with a 3-0 win at Frosinone and Daniele De Rossi's side, sixth on 41 points, host Torino on Monday.

(Reporting by Trevor Stynes, editing by Ed Osmond)

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