Around a year ago, we were talking about how Arkadiusz Milik would be able to adequately replace the outgoing Gonzalo Higuain up front for Napoli. The Polish international had been brought in from Ajax to be the new main man for Maurizio Sarri’s side and everyone wondered how he would fare. A year on, and we are still sat here talking about how Milik will fit into this Napoli side, but this time he’s got competition.
The incredible form of Dries Mertens as the main goal threat as well as Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon on the flanks means that Napoli has one of the deadliest attacks in world football, all without Arek Milik. It’s one of the toughest decisions Sarri will face this season, but one that few have the luxury of making.
As demonstrated last season, Napoli’s attacking play relied heavily on the fluidity of the front three, something that was done to perfection at times with Mertens down the middle.
Would Sarri sacrifice this for Milik? Perhaps, if he trusted his ability or had a change of plan during pre-season, but that would be quite unlikely given the success Napoli had with that style of play last season.
Despite the reservations Sarri may have on dropping one of the front three, it may be the only way to pair up Mertens and Milik together. For example, if he wanted to switch to a 3-4-3 formation, it may be the only way to fit the two in alongside either Insigne or Callejon. It would be a very good way to fit both Milik and Mertens into the side, but would also mean having to lose one of the attackers, something Napoli may not want to do.
We all know the talent Milik has, something he showed whilst starting at the beginning of last season before his cruciate ligament injury in September. No one is doubting that he is a top-quality player, but his role at the club may change into a rotational one and maybe starting in the Coppa Italia. This may seem like a poor role for someone of his ability, but with Napoli having to go through the Champions League preliminary round, he may find more opportunities early on in the campaign.
So, how does Milik fit into this Napoli starting XI whilst keeping Mertens at his creative best? By moving Mertens out to the wing and dropping another player, Milik could find his way back into the team, but it is very doubtful that Napoli will sacrifice something that made them so clinical throughout last season.
An option would be moving to 4-2-3-1, the system that revolutionised Juventus under Max Allegri this term. Mertens could therefore still have a central role and drop deeper to run at defenders, dialoguing with Milik, Insigne and Callejon. It might leave the midfield a little exposed, or at least force Marek Hamsik to spend less time bombing forward in search of that Diego Maradona goal-scoring record.
It will be tough, very tough, for Milik to walk back into the Napoli line-up. Can he do it? Well, he certainly has the ability, but it’s highly unlikely. Arek is a great option to have on the bench and as a back-up player should anything happen to Mertens, but given how well all three of Mertens, Insigne and Callejon did last season, Milik will likely have to make do with a place on the sidelines alongside Sarri.