A new Coach always brings a lot of excitement, particularly when that hiring is a three-time Champions League winner like Carlo Ancelotti coming to Napoli. However, that energy can often translate into anxiety about the forthcoming season and the nagging doubt: What if it doesn’t go the way we hoped?
Since the release of the fixture list a few weeks ago, the latter has been nesting inside the minds of Napoli fans. Their start to the season is projected to be the hardest amongst all the big teams, and that’s not even taking the Champions League into account.
Their first seven league games include an opening day trip to the Stadio Olimpico to face Lazio, as well as visits to Sampdoria and Juventus. The home games aren’t much easier, with Gonzalo Higuain’s Milan and Fiorentina travelling down south. If you stretch it to the first 10 games, then you can include bitter rivals Roma coming to town as well.
A run like that in the opening couple of months is bad enough, but made even tougher when there is a new Coach at the helm and pre-season training disrupted by the World Cup. Summer friendlies have been disappointing and showed huge problems in defence, particularly the 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool.
There is no time to lose, as Aurelio De Laurentiis didn’t bring Ancelotti in simply to finish second or stabilise the club after Maurizio Sarri’s departure. He hired the Coach to win the Scudetto. Such lofty expectations mean a rough start could have devastating effects on confidence.
The bar is already astoundingly high with Sarri breaking Napoli’s points total record two seasons in a row, reaching 91 last term and still finishing behind a pre-Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus.
Yet this is an opportunity for a fresh start and Ancelotti does represent a whole new era with the mentality to go with it. Expectations rose year on year through Walter Mazzarri, Rafa Benitez and Sarri, from top four ambitions to title contenders. If they are to challenge for the Scudetto, such a tough start to the season could even be welcomed as diving in at the deep end. There is to be no hiding from Napoli’s status now, no Sarri moans about playing after Juventus.
When Fabio Capello took over at Roma, he complained of a city with a provincial mentality and one of his tasks was to change the psyche of the club. Ancelotti may have a similar task on his hands over the course of the season. There has long been criticism of a ‘southern mentality’ from Napoli, often being accused of crying foul at superior powers fixing things in favour of northern teams. The merits of this claim could be (and have been) debated at length, however it does Napoli no favours.
Fans should welcome the tough start to the 2018-19 Serie A season as an early litmus test to prove they’re among those who talk on the pitch and not just off it. Of course, a simpler fixture list would be preferable, but it’s time to see if Napoli are ready to act like a big team under Ancelotti by getting down to business.