As a dejected side left the pitch in Beijing, having lost to bitter rivals Juventus in the Super Coppa earlier this month, Napoli fans could be forgiven for questioning which direction their season was heading in? A silenzio stampa followed the defeat, with Napoli protesting against poor officiating in the final.
This summer’s focus was on the breakup of the ‘Three Tenors,’ following Ezequiel Lavezzi’s departure to cash-rich Paris Saint Germain for reported fee of €30 million. The Argentine’s departure was long expected, but his final destination took many by surprise.
Napoli also had concerns over the future of Edinson Cavani, with European Champions Chelsea, continuously linked with ‘El Matador’. However, following a disappointing Olympic tournament, Cavani has returned prepared to fire the Azzurri to yet more success.
At least Marek Hamsik recently pledged his loyalty to the club, stating: “there is no reason for me to leave.” Hamsik’s decision to commit to the club demonstrates the strong bonds which hold this team together. The Slovakian’s presence will be central to any success Napoli hope to enjoy this season.
Aurelio De Laurentiis has operated shrewdly in the transfer market once again, using the funds gained from Lavezzi’s sale to reinvest in the playing staff. Allessandro Gamberini has arrived from Fiorentina and could arguably be the best signing Napoli make this summer. The Italian is vastly experienced, having played in the Champions League and also featured intermittently for the national side. He will link with Paolo Cannavaro to stabilise the defence.
Valon Behrami also moved south from Fiorentina and has quickly become a key component in Napoli’s midfield. Capable of playing as a wing-back, in central midfield, or in an attacking role further up the pitch, Behrami’s versatility is something which will see him star in Napoli’s counter-attacking system.
Lorenzo Insigne has returned to Napoli off the back of a stellar season in Serie B with Pescara. There are high hopes that Insigne can fill the void left by Lavezzi in attack and emerge as the ‘Tenor’ in town.
Manager Walter Mazzarri has modified Napoli’s formation during preseason, unleashing a new 3-5-1-1 system, looking to launch swift counter attacks. Preseason fixtures provided evidence of the system at work, with early success over Bayern Munich, followed by victories against Bayer Leverkusen, Bordeaux and Sporting Braga. Even against Juventus in the Super Coppa final, Napoli looked dangerous when going forward.
The new-look formation gives Napoli an extra player in midfield, allowing them to seize control of matches. Often last season, when using the 3-4-1-2, Napoli were by-passed in the centre of the pitch by opposition and suffered as a result. Now, Mazzarri has numerous options, with Gokhan Inler operating as a deep-lying playmaker, with Marek Hamsik and Valon Behrami ready to bomb-forward. The wing-backs Maggio, Dossena and Zuniga will provide width in attack, but they will have to track back to protect a potentially vulnerable defence.
In attack, Edinson Cavani will play as a lone striker, a role he prefers. Goran Pandev and Insigne will provide cover to him. Mazzarri expected to add a further striker to the squad, with Eduardo Vargas departing on loan to gain experience.
Napoli suffered last season due to lack of depth in their squad, but with the recent additions this should no longer be of concern. Napoli will fight on three fronts this season, not only in Serie A, but in the Coppa Italia and Europa League.
Walter Mazzarri is expected to improve upon last season’s fifth placed finish. With De Laurentiis already stating: “the Scudetto should be everyone’s goal.” And adding: “We will also be one of the two teams to qualify automatically for the Champions League, and we will do well in the Coppa Italia and Europa League.” So no pressure on the manager.
Player to Watch: Lorenzo Insigne