Kalidou Koulibaly couldn’t have timed his leap any better. It wasn’t so much the height of his jump, but the way it delivered him to Jose Callejon’s out-swinging corner, with the Napoli centre back meeting the ball square on. The impact of his header emphatically billowed the Juventus net, but this was a goal that made an even greater impact across Italy.

Napoli’s 1-0 away win over Juventus, secured by Koulibaly’s late goal, brought them to within a single point of the top of the Serie A table with just four games of the season left to play. Over the past decade or so, through Walter Mazzarri, Rafael Benitez and now Maurizio Sarri, Napoli have been building towards something and now it is culminating in a late title challenge.

Across Europe this season, elitism has taken hold of football. The gulf between the best and the rest is growing, illustrated by the way Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have strolled to their respective league titles this season. Napoli’s dramatic win over Juventus was a shuddering blow to this establishment, though.

Serie A is the last major European league yet to be completely engulfed by capitalism and Napoli are the purest epitome of that. There’s a certain spirit to them as a club. Sometimes, Napoli come across as almost South American in character – from their manager, to their players, to their stadium, to their supporters. There’s a fanaticism to their following. There were tears among the away support at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday night. For a club that hasn’t won the Scudetto for 28 years, this matters.


While Napoli might still trail Juventus in the table, the fixture list between now and the end of the season points to Sarri’s side holding the advantage. The Bianconeri still have to face Roma and Inter Milan away from home, with trips to Fiorentina and Sampdoria the toughest fixtures Napoli have left to play.

It’s impossible to look at the way Napoli have pulled themselves back into title contention without contemplating the romanticism of football. Napoli are a club that offers a true reflection of their city, of their community, and at the top level of the game in 2018 that is something of a rarity. Only a handful of clubs – Liverpool, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund – can claim to represent their fans in such a pure way. This is why their title challenge means so much. This is why Sunday’s win over Juventus was so momentous. Imagine if they actually win the whole thing.


Odds are correct at the time of posting

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