Wednesday, October 29 th, 2014
Mission  |   Team  |   Contact Us    
Photo: Napoli official Facebook page
Napoli's season preview: Benitez barely satisfied with the transfer window. Higuaín is the key
President De Laurentiis didn't invest as much as the past season. The squad is younger but less experienced. All will depend - once again - on the aces that Benitez deploys in attack: el Pipita, Callejon, Mertens and Hamšík
by Anthony Pepe
Last year’s rank: 3rd
While a genuine scudetto challenge would have been appreciated, Napoli’s squad was missing a couple of key elements to go all the way, ultimately finishing in a respectable third place. Speaking objectively, this should be considered a success; a new manager, new tactical schemas and several new players all contributed to a season of transition which finished by accomplishing the season goal which was a top three placement.

Most significant signings
Kalidou Koulibaly (France, 23), defender, signed from K.R.C. Genk (Belgium)
Jonathan de Guzmán (Netherlands - 13 caps, 26), midfielder, Villarreal (Spain)
David López Silva (Spain, 24), midfielder, Espanyol (Spain)
Michu (Spain – 1 cap, 28), forward, season loan, Swansea City (Wales)

Most significant departures
Valon Behrami (Switzerland – 52 caps, 29), midfielder, sold to Hamburg (Germany)
Goran Pandev (Macedonia – 75 caps, 31), forward, Galatasaray (Turkey)
Blerim Džemaili (Switzerland – 37 caps, 28), midfielder, Galatasaray (Turkey)
Federico Fernández (Argentina – 30 caps, 25) defender, Swansea City

Transfer Market evaluation
Total expenditure: €21.55 million Total earnings: €16.55 million

At first glance it would seem that Napoli have sold a lot of experience and signed a lot potential and this would be correct. Four players with almost 200 international caps have been exchanged for four players with 14 caps, which has transformed Napoli into the youngest average squad in Serie A. Either Rafa Benitez feels that all the gaps in the squad have been filled or the club was less willing to invest than last summer and considering Benitez’s statements to the press it would seem to be the latter.

Time will tell if the defence has been adequately reinforced; the collapse against Bilbao was so disastrous that it has to be put down to players not being used to each other yet. The midfield has been left short, however, and there is no excuse from the management for this; without denigrating David López, he isn’t in the same league as the players Napoli had hoped to bring in.

Considering the financial outlay alone, Napoli have done decent business on the purchasing side, Koulibaly, López and De Guzmán have their best years ahead of them and none were very expensive. Maybe Napoli received too little for the sales of Behrami and Džemaili, but this is offset by the sale of Fernández, even if selling cheaply to an EPL club requires true incompetence.

Starting line-up
Rafael, Ghoulam, Koulibaly, Albiol, Maggio, Inler, Jorginho, Mertens, Hamšík, Callejón, Higuaín.

Tactic key and line-up
Napoli will line out in a 4-2-3-1.

Benitez as ever likes his team to control possession without taking too many risks while being ever ready to counter attack at blistering pace. Napoli do not press the opposition outside of their own half, leaving the forwards fresh for the counters. The two defensive midfielders rarely surge forward, barring the obligatory trio of long range pop shots attempted by Gokhan Inler per game. This leaves the full backs free to constantly push forward, in the old Brazilian fashion. When Maggio plays he is practically a right winger, this is achieved solely because Callejón is the only Napoli forward who is both tasked with and physically capable of slotting in to the defensive gaps.

Koulibaly will be asked to step out of the defence with the ball at his feet, to try and circumvent the limited passing abilities of both Inler and Jorginho. Hamšík will also contribute by dropping deep when the team is in possession, however he will not contribute to the defensive phases of play. The ‘wingers’ invariably cut inside, both to give space to the full-backs but also because crossing the ball is generally a useless tactic as Higuaín is almost inexistent when it comes to heading the ball (although Callejón is very competent with his head), he needs it to feet. This allows intricate interchanges between the forwards.

If Rafael slips up in goal Mariano Andújar is a capable and experienced substitute. Zúñiga is able to deputise for both full-backs and, in my humble opinion, is not just Napoli’s best full-back but one of the best players in the whole team and Benitez should be criticised for under-utilising him. Henrique can step in anywhere in defence; the less seen of Britos the better.

David López will be the alternative to both Inler and Jorginho, but he remains an unknown quantity for Napoli fans. De Guzman is very versatile and while he prefers to play further forward he is more than capable of playing in defensive midfield.

Insigne and Mertens are likely to interchange frequently, while Michu will be the substitute for both Hamšík and Higuaín, with Zapata likely to get some minutes in the Europa League.

Key Player
The key player is likely to be the same as last season: Gonzalo Higuaín. Top scorer for Napoli last season, the man who can break world class defences, who tirelessly runs the channels and who motivates his teammates to hit the same levels as him. Keeping him fit and happy will be Benitez’s most important task this season, apart from ensuring he has good service from the midfield.

Main objective
Top three: finishing lower than third place is considered unacceptable. While it is understood that a scudetto challenge is unlikely, the fans want that more than anything; taking the title race to the last few games will be a success.

Reasons to be optimistic
The team is young and has bags of potential to grow and all fans enjoy seeing young players progress in their team. Despite a slightly underwhelming mercato, it cannot be ignored that Napoli’s biggest talents remain (Higuaín, Callejón and Albiol) and should be even more successful now they are more familiar with each other. If the first team remains fit and motivated then this should be another exciting season for the Partenopei faithful.

What could go wrong?
One long-term injury to Higuaín will throw an enormous spanner in the works as Michu has his own injury problems and is just as inexperienced in Serie A as Duván Zapata. The midfield is light in quality and it remains to be seen how much bite has been lost with the departure of Behrami. The defence has potential, but another Bilbao style collapse could knock their confidence for six. All Napoli fans wish to see serious progress in the Europa League, but Benitez will surely focus primarily on Serie A, exposing Napoli to an earlier exit and a further drop in UEFA coefficient.

Thursday, September 4 th, 2014
For discussion of this topic and many more about Serie A, join R/ItalianFootball