Serie A sides like Juventus, Roma, Inter and Milan have already started revamping their squads with massive spending sprees and in several cases new Coaches, but Napoli stand out as taking the slow and steady approach to success.
Despite coming away empty-handed last season, Napoli should be quite pleased with the progress they have made over the past few years.
The Partenopei’s wildly entertaining and electrifying attack earned plaudits on the Peninsula, and all of continental Europe finally followed suit, ultimately buying into the hype surrounding Coach Maurizio Sarri’s tactical wizardry. Unfortunately for them, scoring a gaudy 94 goals – a league best – was not enough to lift them above Juventus and Roma in the table, meaning their third-place finish forces them into the Champions League preliminary round.
But, if there is a silver lining to be taken from this, supporters can rest easy knowing their top two attackers penned long-term deals, eliminating any possible panic associated with the summer transfer market.
Breakout star Dries Mertens and local lad Lorenzo Insigne each committed to the club with lengthy extensions, signifying their loyalty and belief in the project to compete for top honours. Last summer, when striker Gonzalo Higuain’s €90m release clause was unlocked by Juventus, President Aurelio De Laurentiis proceeded to re-invest back in to the market in hopes of threatening ‘the Old Lady’s’ locomotive run to six straight Scudetti – to no avail.
Arkadiusz Milik, Piotr Zielinski, Amadou Diawara, Marko Rog and Nikola Maksimovic were among the arrivals in a massive spending spree, many of whom barely played at all. This is because of Milik’s injury, but also Sarri’s complex tactics that must be drilled in to players so they become second nature. As this will be the second season for those additions, they should be ready to go and make a much larger contribution.
For the most part, Napoli tend to shy away from emptying the bank, relying on scouting to discover value and sign potential superstars. They do not have pockets as deep as the Bianconeri, meaning they must play the market smart.
Surveying their current roster, Sarri should feel delighted to know it won’t take much flexing - financially speaking - to once again contend for the Scudetto next year. Many assume Napoli will take a 4-2-3-1 shape. From the back, Elseid Hysaj and Faouzi Ghoulam push forward, although rumours suggest that Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno or Roma’s Mario Rui (who already worked with Sarri at Empoli and therefore knows his system) could replace the Algerian this summer.
Anchoring the back bank is one of Serie A’s elite centre-halves, Kalidou Koulibaly, and savvy Spaniard Raul Albiol, but there is optimism amongst Napoli supporters that Nikola Maksimovic can compete for a starting role and work to repay on his lofty €20m obligation triggered this summer.
Transitioning towards the midfield, Napoli hold the luxury of options. Captain Marek Hamsik and young controller Amadou Diawara project to armour the defense, with a supporting cast consisting of Zielinski, Croatian Rog, Allan and Jorginho all at Sarri’s beck and call.
Napoli’s recent run of top three finishes have been heavily dependent on a lethal attack, capable of making even the most fearless of defenses play with caution. The trident of Insigne, Mertens and Jose Callejon score by the dozen as a collective and apply unrelenting pressure. Milik’s full recovery from an ACL tear means the Polish international reclaims his spot as the lone man spearheading an attack which – all things considered – should top the scoring charts once again.
Widely considered to be the top priority this summer, the goalkeeping situation could depend on Pepe Reina and whether or not he is to remain the first choice option. Supporters lament notable lapses and sporadic play in the net last season as fuel for major interest in a long-term replacement.
Consistency has been key for Napoli over the last few years, from the squad to their overall market strategy. Success in modern football is measured mostly by trophies, but for Napoli, extensive analytics and Europe’s perception of their play prove they are trending in the right direction.
There’s a narrowing gap from six-in-a-row title winners Juventus, and while shortsightedness suggests spending big is the way to claim Serie A supremacy, it’s consistency this summer that will ultimately get Napoli there.