Salernitana faces Italian leader Napoli after chaotic week

MILAN (AP) — An 8-2 loss and a chaotic week which saw Salernitana fire and then rehire the same coach within 48 hours is not the best way to prepare to face the Italian league leaders.

Unfortunately, that’s the position the club is in.

Salernitana fired coach Davide Nicola on Monday, a day after the team lost by six goals at Atalanta, and rehired the 49-year-old Italian on Wednesday. The team will face Napoli on Saturday.

“I think it’s not until you lose someone that you realize just how much you miss them and will miss them,” Salernitana president Danilo Iervolino said.

The club was already in talks with other coaches when Nicola managed to convince Iervolino to rehire him in a phone call, aided by sporting director Morgan De Sanctis. Iervolino then talked to the squad and the players all wanted him back.

“Yesterday something unique happened in soccer,” Iervolino said. “Nicola wanted to talk to me … he expressed his desire to immediately return to coach his team. This is a story about men who do important things, like achieving safety last year.

“The coach told me important things: about the city, about the fans and what he could give. I thought a lot about his words and for the good of the club, the players and everyone, it’s right to give him another chance to take forward a team that should never ever again suffer a result like that against Atalanta.”

The loss at Atalanta was Salernitana’s fourth in its last five matches — a run that has sent the team plummeting down the Serie A standings to 16th place, nine points above the relegation zone.

Nicola, known as a coach who can rescue teams from desperate situations, was appointed Salernitana coach last February when the team was trying to stave off relegation from Serie A.

Back in the top division after an absence of more than 20 years, Salernitana had spent nearly the entire campaign at the bottom of the standings. But under Nicola, Salernitana recorded 18 points in the remaining 15 matches to stay up and he was rewarded with a two-year contract in June.

That run started with an impressive draw against then-leader AC Milan and he faces an equally tricky test on Saturday against Napoli, especially after the humiliating loss in Bergamo.

Napoli has impressed this season, domestically and in Europe, and has a nine-point lead at the top of Serie A. It also has the best attack with 44 goals in 18 league matches. The worst defense? Salernitana’s.

But Napoli has already lost this week when it was eliminated from the Italian Cup on penalties by the league’s last-place club, Cremonese.

Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti made a slew of changes to his starting lineup but brought on his regulars during the match, although key forward Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was absent with the flu.

“When they equalized we had the midfield that I normally put out,” Spalletti said. “The fact that we’re out is because we played below our usual standards.

“Everyone knows that each match is different. It’s not just a matter of individual experience but soccer is like that. If we don’t have the same standards, any result can happen.”

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