Imagine the Three Wise Men without that one who brought the frankincense, the KVWN Channel Four news team without Ron Burgundy or even Punch and Judy without the policeman. It just wouldn’t feel right. Well that’s how Napoli fans imagined it would be without Edinson Cavani guiding their own special group.
Consequently when he did leave last July many were distressed and believed it was the end of an era. In retrospect it was probably the best thing that could have happened. The King’s ransom of €64.5m that PSG paid for the Uruguayan helped build a new, exciting team, no longer dependant on that one player.
Yet new Coach Rafa Benitez knew Napoli still needed a lead striker and brought in Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid and today he has helped the memories of the Matador fade away. “It was important for us to find the perfect substitute for Edinson and I think that in this sense buying Gonzalo was the ideal one,” said Napoli’s Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler. Fellow forward Lorenzo Insigne feels the same way. “Cavani always wants to score goals but Higuain is different,” he maintained. “Pipita plays more for the team. His goals have made us even better and he has a great understanding with everyone.”
One of the reasons for the Napoli attack being different and offering more of a threat this season is that a new tactical identity, a new philosophy has developed. The Partenopei no longer focus on one player bearing the goal-scoring responsibilities. Today the goals come from everywhere and Higuain, with those different gifts Insigne mentions, has helped Napoli become the best attack in Serie A. The Vesuviani’s four-wheel drive of him, Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik and Goran Pandev has steered in a phenomenal 29 in 17 games. A total which is five more than Juve’s and Roma’s top four forwards put together and, even though stats only tell part of the story, is still four more than the whole Milan team in total.
Back to Cavani this time last year he had scored 18 including seven in eight Europa League games, while Higuain and Jose have 23, scoring six between them in six tough Champions League games. As the team’s new point of reference, Pipita’s superlative displays in both the Champions League and Serie A have shown that he is equally efficient on either stage. His nine League goals in 14 starts (16 games) include strikes against Inter, Milan and Lazio, while in the Champions League his strike rate is even more telling with four in five games, plus six assists in both competitions.
In conclusion with the addition of Higuain, Napoli’s new style of attacking involves more choice and is almost the opposite formation of the one Walter Mazzarri employed. The former Napoli boss preferred a system that soaked up the pressure before setting up speedy counterattacks on the break with Cavani up front by himself. Now the pressure is on the opposition from the start from any number of channels.
Make no mistake it was exciting to see Cavani’s devastating runs, but with the front four getting more opportunities it is even more so. The spirit of El Matador that was feared might hang over Napoli has been banished and soon it might even be “Cavani who?”
Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £5,000 monthly.