Thursday, February 19 th, 2015
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Napoli's transfer window: is it already over with Gabbiadini and Strinić's signings?
by Anthony Pepe
With the signings of Manolo Gabbiadini and Ivan Strinić, it would seem that in terms of buying players, Napoli’s business is concluded for January. However the talk of bringing in a new midfielder has been ongoing since June 2014, rumours continue unabated and Napoli seem to be on the brink of letting at least one player go.

Analysing what areas of Napoli’s squad needs improving is not the same as saying how Napoli should act in the January transfer window; the window is too short and by nature too expensive to be able to carefully and cost-effectively sign players. It is designed to allow clubs who have been hit by an important injury to sign a replacement, or perhaps a club who just changed manager needs a couple of signings who fit with said manager’s philosophy and some clubs see it as an opportunity for some expensive advertising. The former is what has occurred to Napoli in the form of Lorenzo Insigne’s injury; the winger was entering a period of great form which was curtailed by injury and Napoli’s form contemporaneously declined. So barring this misfortune, what areas of Napoli’s squad could use improving?

Unfortunately for the Partonopei fans, every area of the squad could use either a lick of paint or real reconstructive surgery. While Rafael has impressed in goal he remains inexperienced and Mariano Andújar clearly does not have the faith of Benitez; Rafael does not need replacing, what would be ideal would be another GK under 30 who can consistently challenge Rafael for the gloves. Faouzi Ghoulam has frequently impressed at left back for Napoli, especially over the last few months. He is very fast, a good dribbler and has a good cross; however he is still learning the defensive part of his trade and is worryingly injury prone, which leave Miguel Britos stepping in to replace him. Britos is far from good enough to represent Napoli and this is why Croatian international left back Ivan Strinić has been brought in; with any luck Britos will not be seen at left back again for Napoli.

The other flank is also problematic; Christian Maggio has been a stalwart for Napoli for 6 years and is vice-captain. To be fair to him, he has done a lot better this season than had been expected considering his slow but sure physical decline, but Maggio will turn 33 in February and there is only so long he can continue to make those lung-busting runs up the right flank, fortunately José Callejón is very adept at covering him. Giandomenico Mesto is not the long-term solution to this so it would seem only a matter of time before a new right-back is signed, especially as Henrique has not seemed at all competent when deputising there. Perhaps Juan Camilo Zúñiga will someday return to fitness and reclaim one of the full back slots, but for the moment he has been a non-player for around a year and a half.

For the time being no reinforcements are needed at centre back, although signing a French-Spanish translator to stand between Koulibaly and Albiol on the pitch may be the solution to Napoli’s defensive woes!

The centre of midfield is the area where reinforcements have been clearly needed for some time. This time last year Napoli signed Jorginho from Verona and hoped that he would be the perfect player to make everything tick. Technical, industrious, young and Italian, it all seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately things have not necessarily gone to plan and Jorginho currently finds himself third choice behind the impressive but limited Gargano-López duo.

It seems that everyone at the club from the President down is willing to be patient with Jorginho, he is a long-term prospect and clearly has the skill set to one day be a successful player for Napoli, but Benitez needs someone now and that someone is clearly not Jorginho or Gökhan Inler. While it is unlikely that Inler will be sold unless a worthy replacement is already lined up, his days with the Vesuviani seem to be numbered, with German and Turkish clubs sniffing around him. He has been stuck to the bench for weeks and his last start came against Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League when Napoli were already qualified. If Benitez can bring in one of his Spanish targets (Mario Suárez of Atlético Madrid or Ignacio Camacho of Málaga CF) then expect Inler to be out of the door quickly, but if Napoli were unable to pay during the summer then it seems even less likely that they will pay a higher January price, especially now that Arsenal seem to be pursuing Suárez as well.

To briefly return to Walter Gargano and David López; both have been stars for Napoli over the last four months, they have both given everything on the pitch for the Napoli cause and it is not the fault of either of them that they were not who the fans wanted during the summer nor that are not deep lying playmakers like Xabi Alonso. They have both convinced the fans to love them (for Gargano, to love again, which is even harder, but his penalty against Juve sealed the deal) and could use an extra man to take the pressure off them every now and then.

Finally, the attack. Despite its intermittent problems this season, with Gabbiadini signed up Napoli’s forward line remains formidable. If Higuaín and Callejón stay amongst the goals for the rest of the season then scoring will not be a problem. While Mertens has been very disappointing this season and Hamšík is still not the Hamšík we remember from two years ago, De Guzmán has been a sensational revelation. While three forwards remain in form at the same time Napoli will be fine; the eventual return of Insigne will give true depth when added to the signing of Gabbiadini, a man all of Italy has high hopes for.

Napoli’s mercato is likely already over, unless something really big can be done and it is praiseworthy that it was concluded before the break even finished, giving the players some time to acclimatise. If they both gel then Napoli should be looking to make third place theirs once again.

Monday, January 12 th, 2015
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