A season that had promised so much for Napoli eventually ended in an anti-climax as they missed out on a place in the Champions League on the final day.
The Partenopei had entered the 2020/21 campaign as Coppa Italia winners, and they had produced some dazzling performances in the early stages of the Serie A season, but inconsistency became an issue and they finished fifth in the league with 77 points.
COVID-19 diagnoses and various injuries hindered coach Gennaro Gattuso’s ability to field a team at full strength, especially in the middle of the season, and that impact significantly on their Champions League aspirations.
Napoli were still win with a chance of qualification for Europe’s premier competition in the final round, but a 1-1 draw at home to Hellas Verona was not enough as AC Milan and Juventus secured away victories against Atalanta and Bologna respectively.
Player of the Season: Lorenzo Insigne
In a squad blessed with mercurial attacking talents, Insigne stood out and the Napoli captain had arguably the best season of his career.
The 29-year-old scored a career-high 19 goals in 35 Serie A matches for 2020/21 and he also supplied seven assists. Operating as a left-winger in the 4-2-3-1 formation, Insigne did not just rest in attack and he demonstrated that he could track back to help the team out defensively.
Italy coach Roberto Mancini be hoping that the Napoli forward can produce the same magic for the Azzurri at the up-and-coming European Championship.
Best Signing: Victor Osimhen
Acquired from French club Lille for a reported figure of €70 million, Osimhen was Napoli’s major transfer for the summer of 2020 and also the most expensive signing in the history of the club.
Although he battled with a shoulder injury and was diagnosed with COVID-19, he still managed to score 10 goals in 24 Serie A matches in 2020/21.
Goals do not tell the full story about his game though. Osimhen is tall, strong, athletic, and fast centre-forward that is hard for opposition defenders to contain and he can hold the ball up well for teammates.
If the 22-year-old can remain fit throughout the 2021/22 campaign, the Nigerian international can pose a greater danger around the ground and in front of goal.
The Coach: Gennaro Gattuso
From the outside looking in, it seemed that Gattuso was being not supported by the Napoli hierarchy, especially from Partenopei president Aurelio De Laurentiis.
After the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti in December 2019, Gattuso brought stability and fighting spirit to the team, and the Ciucciarelli defeated Juventus on penalties in the 2020 Coppa Italia Final.
Being eliminated by Spanish side Granada in the Round of 32 of the Europa League was disappointing and there was the possibility of failing to qualify for Europe at the end of the 2020/21 season.
Gattuso did set up his team to play defensively at times but Napoli could play some exhilarating attacking football when he had a full squad to choose from.
Often lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Giovanni Di Lorenzo would attack from right-back, Fabian Ruiz would dictate play from deep, Piotr Zielinski thrived as an attacking midfielder, Hirving Lozano and Matteo Politano were exciting right-wingers, Insigne was sensational on the left, and Osimhen was capable of storming through opposition defences.
The departure of Gattuso will probably leave a sour taste in the mouth but his appointment at Fiorentina shows that the work of the emerging tactician has been appreciated elsewhere.
Napoli produced their share of virtuoso performances during the 2020/21 season but the most impressive surely has to be their Round 4 victory at home to Atalanta.
La Dea had been a bogey team for the Partenopei in recent years and the Bergamaschi had scored 13 goals in the opening three rounds of the Serie A campaign but the Neapolitans demolished them 4-1.
Lozano scored twice in a four-minute spell before Politano added the third after 30 minutes. Osimhen then found the back of the net in Serie A for the first time to give the Ciucciarelli a 4-0 lead at half-time.
Sam Lammers pulled one back in the 69th minute for Atalanta but it was nothing more than a consolation. Incredibly Napoli accomplished this result without Insigne in the team, who had been ruled out with a muscular injury.
Where could you start?
There was the Juventus v Napoli fiasco at the start of the campaign when the Partenopei squad could not travel to Piedmont for their Round 3 match due to some COVID-19 cases. I Bianconeri were initially awarded a 3-0 win and that decision was appealed multiple times before being overturned. When they finally did play in Turin, the Neapolitans lost 2-1.
Then there were the 1-1 draws at home to Cagliari and Hellas Verona; both were matches they should have won on paper and they had the chances to do so.
Probably the worst moment was straight after the draw with the Veronese side, when De Laurentiis announced on Twitter that the services of Gattuso would not be retained.
Perhaps the Partenopei patron should have given it more time, but it was nonetheless a bitter way for the coach to leave, especially since he had won the Coppa Italia with the southern Italian club less than a year ago.