Napoli are top of the table, having dropped points only in the head-to-head with second-placed Inter, but as the season wears on, will the lack of strength in depth prove costly?
It may have been a 2-1 defeat for Napoli at the Etihad last week, but the Partenopei gave a good account of themselves against an excellent Manchester City side nonetheless. Maurizio Sarri had strayed away from his regular XI, selecting Amadou Diawara and Piotr Zielinski instead of the usual midfield duo of Jorginho and Allan.
Even talented tactician Pep Guardiola admitted the Neapolitans were among the best sides he has ever faced as a Coach, and it is testament to their strength in midfield that they were able to put in that kind of performance.
However, for a boss who is so set on continuity with his team selections, the rotation was a clear statement of intent to prioritise Serie A over the group stages of the Champions League.
After having missed out on winning the title for the past two years running, a more determined and tenacious Napoli side have blown all the opposition away, becoming the only side in Europe’s top leagues to have won all eight opening matches.
Yet a question mark remains. Whilst unstoppable domestically with their usual line-up, their strength in depth leaves a lot to be desired. With Arkadiusz Milik out injured with a torn ACL for the second season in a row, it is once again down to Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon to single-handedly lead the front line.
Without any one of those three, their attack looks decidedly blunt and the side most certainly would lose a great deal of attacking prowess. The Champions League escapades in Manchester proved that the midfield is certainly stronger in terms of depth, and so too is the defence.
Christian Maggio, Nikola Maksimovic, Vlad Chiriches, Mario Rui plus Lorenzo Tonelli provide more than adequate back-up to the usual Partenopei back line of Elseid Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam, but perfectionist Sarri is hesitant to rotate.
Of course, his precise passing system relies on regularity, but if fatigue sets in during the latter stages of the season – a time when Juventus have been strongest in recent years and with Inter free of European commitments – the Coach may well find himself pondering what could have been yet again.
There is obviously the January transfer window to consider here, but any new acquisitions take time to be integrated into the system, if Sarri decides to play them at all. Whilst these factors could lead to his undoing, rectifying these problems could see them become champions of Italy for the first time since 1989-90.
For the midweek trip to Genoa, there was no rest for the attacking trio or Koulibaly, as Adam Ounas, Emanuele Giaccherini and Marko Rog barely get a run-out. How long can Mertens keep being decisive and what fixture will finally see Sarri rest any one of his trident?
Sassuolo in crisis visit the Stadio San Paolo this weekend, so if Napoli don’t rest any of their star names in that fixture, they probably never will.