One - this is the number of Serie A games Jose Maria Callejon missed during Maurizio Sarri’s three years at Napoli. The Spaniard’s importance to Sarri’s gameplay has never been doubted, but the fact the only game that the 31-year-old missed was due to suspensioneven furtherhighlights how highly the ex-Partenopei Coach thought of the winger.
However, it took Carlo Ancelotti just three weeks to field a Callejon-less starting XI in Serie A and the Real Madrid youth product was not the only big name that was missing against Sampdoria. Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens also started on the bench, as Ancelotti choose to field a younger and more unexperienced team - an experiment, which resulted in a dreadful performance and a heavy 3-0 loss.
The outcome of the game clearly shows that this Napoli team is not ready to play without so many of its senators, especially in the transitional period the club is currently in.
The departures of Pepe Reina and Jorginho are clearly having a big impact, as losing the duo to Milan and Chelsea respectively deprived the Partenopei of two of the constants of Sarri’s era. Their replacements Alex Meret and Amadou Diawara are extremely talented players, but while the Italian is currently injured, the 21-year-old midfielder needs more seasoned heads around him to express his qualities in an efficient way. Therefore, removing Callejon, Mertens and Hamsik from the starting XI at the same time is clearly too big of a change at this point.
It almost seems like Ancelotti was tricked into makingall those changes by the constant criticism towards Sarri’s inability to use the full width of his squad and rotate his players in the last couple of seasons. This looks like a rookie mistake by Ancelotti, which is very bizarre, considering Carletto’s experience and ability to gradually implement his ideas in all clubs he’s been working at.
It is true that Napoli paid a significant amount of money for Simone Verdi and the former Bologna man should be getting consistent playing time, but he should be eased into the side by playing alongside the more experienced players. The 26-year-old has never featured for a top club, so the struggles on his debut should not be surprising by any means.
What was more worrying than Verdi’s toothless play was the inability of the likes of Allan, Arkadiusz Milik and most notably Lorenzo Insigne to step up in the absence of the other leaders of the side. Ancelotti’s presence onthe bench means that Napoli should eventually learn to play with new personnel, because as effective and as attractive the current core of players has been, Mertens, Hamsik and Callejon will not last forever.
The only more disappointing thing than the result from Napoli’s perspective has arguably been Insigne’s inability to step up and take the game by the scruff of theneck when it really matters. The 27-year-old is undoubtedly one of the brightest talents that Italy has produced in recent years and one of the players who can benefit the most fromAncelotti’s arrival in Naples.
Insigne needs to outgrow the bad habit of always looking for the attractive, rather than the effective option, which would be key for inserting the sought-after pragmatism and winning mentality in his and Napoli’s gameplay. If he doesn’t do that, he risks being remembered as just another unfulfilled Italian talent.
Putting the blame for the Sampdoria defeat exclusively on Insigne, Ancelotti, David Ospina, who is yet to register a save for Napoli, or anybody else would not be fair. There is little doubt that Ancelotti will take serious measures to avoid similar meltdowns in the future. Carletto’s failed experiment against Marco Giampolo’s side, as well as the inconsistency showed during the dramatic comebacks against Lazio and Milan, are not crucial for Napoli’s season. At least not yet.
However, with the Partenopei facing an impressing Fiorentina side at the weekend and with their Champions League campaign starting next week as well, Ancelotti can not afford any further experiments with the fragile balance of his squad.
Carletto has been around long enough to notice the worrying signs and realise that what Napoli need at the moment is not a revolution. They just need him to do what he knows best - smoothly inserting pragmatism and ruthlessness into a collective unit that has been functioning so well for years.