Perhaps Walter Mazzarri misheard. On Thursday the Napoli owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, justified the lack of playing time afforded to the promising young striker Lorenzo Insigne by telling La Gazzetta dello Sport: "a big club needs to have four attackers in its squad". On Saturday Mazzarri, the Napoli manager, followed up by putting all of those forwards on the pitch at the same time during his team's game away at Lazio.
Alongside Insigne by the 80th minute at the Stadio Olimpico were Goran Pandev, Emanuele Calaio and Edinson Cavani. Throw in the presence of Omar El Kaddouri and Marek Hamsik – two players who routinely blur the boundary between midfielder and forward – just behind and you have one of the boldest formations seen anywhere this season. More than one newspaper sought to classify it as a 3-2-5.
In reality, of course, this was less a tactical manoeuvre than an act of desperation. Mazzarri, a manager whom De Laurentiis likened during the same interview to a Harvard professor, will not be preparing a master's thesis on five-man attacks any time soon. That is not only because he has already published one at Coverciano on the role of assistant managers.
"Did I spend time deliberating on it? No, we needed to get a result and I wanted to take a risk," said Mazzarri when asked about his tactical changes. Napoli, who began the game in a 3-5-2 with Cavani and Pandev up front, had been 1-0 down for more than an hour when the manager introduced the last of those forwards, Calaio, to replace the wing-back Juan Zúñiga. Just 10 minutes remained in a game which Napoli could scant afford to lose.
Second in the table and hailed for weeks as the only viable challengers to Juventus for this year's Scudetto, Mazzarri's side found themselves six points off the pace following the league leaders' victory over Fiorentina earlier the same afternoon. Lazio, furthermore, were the team directly behind Napoli in the standings, capable of closing that gap down to just three points with a win.
And yet, as time ticked away in Rome, a Napoli defeat seemed like the most probable outcome. Lazio had played the better football from the outset and Sergio Floccari's 11th-minute opener was just rewards for their early enterprise and aggressive harrying of their opponents high up the pitch. In an open and immensely entertaining game there had been glorious chances at both ends but neither team managed to convert them.
The woodwork had been struck three times. Floccari followed up his goal by curling a glorious effort against the inside of the post from outside, before Cavani responded by crashing a close-range header into the crossbar. The ball bounced down close to – but crucially not across – the goalline. In the second-half the Lazio goalkeeper Federico Marchetti flapped a Gokhan Inler drive onto the bar but only after Lazio had a Giuseppe Biava goal disallowed (correctly) for offside.
Either side of Calaio's introduction, the Lazio midfielder Senad Lulic spurned glorious opportunities to seal victory. First he flicked the ball past the advancing Napoli goalkeeper, Morgan De Sanctis, on the edge of the box only to see the defender Hugo Campagnaro hack the ball clear on the edge of the six-yard area. Then, after stealing possession from Paolo Cannavaro mid-way inside the Napoli half, he side-footed a tame effort straight at De Sanctis.
But just when it appeared that Mazzarri's tactical gamble was set to backfire, Napoli found their equaliser. If De Laurentiis's valuation of Cavani – over €60m – is to be accepted then his team must have had close to €100m worth of attacking talent on the field by the 87th minute, yet it was not any of those forwards who came up with the goal. Instead it arrived from the boot of a 32-year-old centre-back who is set to leave on a free transfer at the end of this season.
Campagnaro had already done his duty as a defender, clearing that first Lulic attempt, but few could have anticipated what was coming next: a leaping volley to meet El-Kaddouri's corner from the right. The ball rocketed past Marchetti and into the roof of the Lazio net.
"I've never seen anything like it from him," confessed Mazzarri afterwards. The defender had scored just three goals in his three-and-a-half seasons with the team. Suffice to say, none of those finishes were quite as well-taken as this one.
There was time yet for Floccari to strike the woodwork again for Lazio, thudding a header against the bar in the first minute of injury time. In the week that Lazio signed Louis Saha on a free transfer, Floccari had proved yet again that he can be an able deputy to Miroslav Klose – scoring his fourth goal in five games since replacing his injured team-mate in the line-up. On the other hand, Lazio have still failed to win any of their six league games without Klose this season.
But it was Campagnaro who commanded the headlines on Sunday morning, the unlikely hero who might just have kept his team's title hopes alive. Earlier this month, amid reports that he had already signed an agreement to join Internazionale upon the expiration of his contract this summer, the defender had protested that his immediate focus was only on Napoli. It is a credit to both player and team that neither allowed decisions about his future to become a distraction in the present.
"I will always give maximum effort," said Campagnaro in response to another question about his future at full-time. "The important thing now is to do as much as I can with Napoli."
Whether his intervention was enough to keep the team's title hopes alive remains to be seen. Although 13 points better off than they were at the corresponding point last season, Napoli still trail Juventus by five. The prospect of a head-to-head meeting on 1 March at the Stadio San Paolo ought at least to keep things interesting. But Mazzarri will hope he doesn't have to show off his new-look four-man attack too often between now and then.
• Alessandro Matri scored after losing his boot to seal Juventus's 2-0 win over Fiorentina, yet the game's biggest talking points occurred either after the final whistle or off the pitch altogether. The Fiorentina goalkeeper, Emiliano Viviano, was at the centre of one, roundly criticised for pulling Andrea Pirlo's shirt off the shoulder of his team-mate Borja Valero after the Spanish midfielder had swapped shirts at full-time. Viviano is a lifelong fan of the Viola who has stated his dislike for their rivals from Turin on a number of occasions but claimed subsequently that he was only trying to protect his team-mate. Valero was walking over to applaud the team's fans in the away section at Juventus Stadium and Viviano said he was concerned those supporters might take offence. "I had no intention of disrespecting Pirlo, who I hold in very high regard, nor Juventus," he said. Regardless of the truth of such words, his gesture was not nearly so dark as some of those in the stands themselves, where a section of the Fiorentina support taunted their rivals once again over the Heysel disaster – singing derogatory chants and holding up signs celebrating the deaths of 39 Juventus fans.
• There were deplorable chants heard at San Siro, too, where Internazionale fans reacted to Mario Balotelli's move to Milan. After highlights of the player's goal against Cagliari were shown on the big screen, parts of the stadium responded with monkey noises and the sadly all-too-familiar protest that "there are no black Italians". The Inter owner, Massimo Moratti, spoke out against such behaviour afterwards, saying: "Those chants must not be repeated." But it remains to be seen what tangible action will be taken.
• It was a former Milan player – and one who is sure to face plenty of abuse himself from the "away" fans when the two teams meet at the end of this month – who led the way for Inter this weekend, Antonio Cassano scoring the first goal, setting up another and generally pulling the strings for his Nerazzurri in a 3-1 win over Chievo. The return of Diego Milito, after a month out with injury, is also a significant boost, and it is he who remains Inter's top scorer, slotting home their third of the day and his ninth of the season early in the second-half.
• The Sampdoria manager, Delio Rossi, – whose previous oeuvre includes attacking his own player, Adem Ljajic, while in charge of Fiorentina last May – landed himself in trouble this week for flipping the bird at Roma's Nicolás Burdisso. Rossi tried to deny the charge at first, before being presented with fairly pretty definitive photographic evidence. Rather than apologise at that stage, he sought to defend his actions by saying that Burdisso had shown him a "lack of respect" (the player is reported to have said: "sit down, dickhead"). After being fined by Sampdoria, Rossi subsequently stated on the club's website: "I regret my gesture at the end of yesterday's match. As I have said, I always respect others and expect the same from them."
• Balotelli's goal was only enough to earn Milan a draw away to Cagliari, but the result was overshadowed in any case by reports that the team's owner, Silvio Berlusconi, had told colleagues at a political rally that his manager "doesn't know shit" about football. Of course, the latter laughed it off in his own inimitable style. "I was having a joke with the guy sat next to me, where whoever's name came up we had to say that phrase about them in the Venetian dialect," claimed Berlusconi. "He mentioned [Massimiliano] Allegri's name and so I repeated the phrase. Then like usual the papers [got hold of it] …"
• The match between Milan and Cagliari was played at the Sardinian team's IS Arenas stadium, but that much was only confirmed as late as Friday. The game had previously been moved to Turin after local authorities deemed the planned venue to be unfit for use. That a stand-off still exists between the team and said authorities, despite several games already having been played at the venue, is indicative of the petty politicking which has prevented so many teams from constructing their own stadiums in Italy. That a decision has not been reached one way or another on the stadium – in truth more an elaborate set of scaffolding than a real structure – so long into the season is deeply dispiriting for Italian football as a whole, but more than anything for the fans who can get to within three days of a home game still not knowing whether it will even be played on the same island.
Results: Atalanta 0-0 Catania, Bologna 1-1 Siena, Cagliari 1-1 Milan, Inter 3-1 Chievo, Juventus 2-0 Fiorentina, Lazio 1-1 Napoli, Palermo 1-1 Pescara, Parma 0-0 Genoa, Sampdoria 3-1 Roma, Udinese 1-0 Torino