Napoli and President Aurelio De Laurentiis have plenty to sort out over the next three months if they wish to compete once again for Italian supremacy, including the future of Coach Maurizio Sarri.
The Italian tactician has earned plaudits all over Europe for his brand of football nicknamed ‘Sarrismo’, including from Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola after the two sides clashed twice during Champions League fixtures this season.
But while supporters would love to retain the chain-smoking Neapolitan boss for this project long-term, there is growing concern that this rocky relationship could come to an end. Chelsea are looking to bring a more attack-driven manager like Sarri to Stamford Bridge with a differing philosophy from Antonio Conte.
Napoli must sort out who will lead the team before anything substantial can be done on the market - which leads us to which components simply cannot be sacrificed.
Assessing this roster isn’t so simple, as there are plenty of players with quality who could easily aid the squad next season, yet may also be expendable for the right fee.
Defensively, Napoli employ several supremely important players, including Elseid Hysaj, Faouzi Ghoulam and Kalidou Koulibaly, whose futures remain a bit foggy at the moment.
The Albania international and Koulibaly are two of the best in their respective positions in Italy, yet may depart Naples in the summer if Sarri does not stick around. These two, along with Ghoulam despite his major injury, are tremendously valuable to the cause and would be awfully difficult to replace on the open market.
Out of all their defenders, losing Koulibaly would deliver the biggest blow when you consider not only how much it would cost for an optimal replacement, but also the fact that there is a massive drop off in security after him. Raul Albiol is in the twilight of his career, while Lorenzo Tonelli and Vlad Chiriches are nowhere near the 26-year-old Senegal international’s level.
The midfield is perhaps where Napoli have the most talent and could survive with a loss or two, seeing as a sale would bring a return sufficient enough to replenish. However, emerging Polish star Piotr Zielinski, Allan, Amadou Diawara and the armband strapped captain Marek Hamsik must remain the foundation in the middle of the park.
Zielinski offers tactical flexibility to play in several midfield roles, and provides an added element to the attack that either Sarri, or his successor, must utilise to the fullest.
Allan is the disruptor every side needs, not to mention he is coming off arguably his best season as a professional. Diawara is widely considered to be one of the top young deep midfielders in the game today, and if Jorginho does wish to explore new pastures in Manchester under Guardiola, then the Guinea international has been prepped to fill that void.
Although keeping Jorginho is preferred due to his importance in the current system and how it operates, the proceeds of a €50m transfer would open up plenty of opportunity on the market for Napoli to bolster the squad in other areas while already having Diawara to undertake those same duties.
Upfront, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik boast heaps of ability that, as a unit, we haven’t been fortunate to see enough due to the Pole’s injuries.
Sarri’s pace, trickery and goalscoring ability up front in the 4-3-3 cannot be blown up and tinkered with too much. There is a possibility the Belgian’s appealing, market-friendly release clause of €28m for clubs outside of Italy will attract major interest, but the 30-year-old is too valuable at this stage of his career to let go willingly when you consider how costly it will be to find a 20-goal producer like him with that bag of tricks.
Napoli fell just short of capturing that title they have worked so hard to obtain, so disbanding the whole project now would be cataclysmic for their hopes of having another go at dethroning Juventus. However, the framework of this squad could look entirely different should Sarri decide to move on.
Having said that, the first order of business for De Laurentiis is to secure the 59-year old long-term and add – not subtract – from what already is a strong squad just a piece or two away from domestic glory.