Following his recent appointment as Napoli coach, Gennaro Gattuso will perhaps see the New Year and now open January transfer window as the ideal opportunity to refine his squad. A stuttering domestic campaign has thus far left the Partenopei down in eighth position and reviving their league form will be top of Rino’s agenda.
The expectation coming into this season under the guidance of former boss Carlo Ancelotti was that this could finally be Napoli’s time to claim the elusive Scudetto they have been chasing since Diego Armando Maradona’s day. However, following a string of poor results and off the field disagreements with President Aurelio De Laurentiis, 2019 ended on a sour note, rounding off a decade of not quite being good enough.
Cementing their status as the peninsula’s second team, they won two Coppa Italia titles and a Suppercoppa Italiana, along with recognition from across Europe for their brand of fluid and exciting attacking football. Last summer’s acquisitions improved the quality of the squad, adding weight to the argument that Napoli could topple Juventus at the top. Yet whilst the likes of Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Kostas Manolas and star signing Hirving Lozano have not been failures, their performances have been inconsistent.
Having regularly used 4-4-2 under Ancelotti, Gattuso has the players at his disposal to make his preferred 4-3-3 succeed, but he will want to make subtle changes in order to put his stamp on this Napoli team. Major sales are not expected at this moment, further major disruption is the last thing the club need and Gattuso will look to the squad’s big hitters in order to help push them up the table.
The former Milan tactician will have highlighted two, potentially three key areas that need addressing in his starting XI. The majority of the back four should pick itself, but it is fundamental that Manolas improves and creates a formidable partnership with Kalidou Koulibaly.
Left-back is the area of the defence that could do with a refresh. Mario Rui is currently occupying that spot in less than inspirational fashion and with Faouzi Ghoulam likely be shown the door, a new dynamic full-back would be a positive move. Out of favour Milan player Ricardo Rodriguez is an obtainable option and a player Gattuso has worked with previously, but Sampdoria’s Nicola Murru would provide an interesting alternative should he be available.
Since midfield metronome Jorginho left in 2018, Napoli have found him tough to replace. Spanish talent Fabio Ruiz is more than capable of playing that pivot role, but restricting him in a deeper position takes away from his game as an influential box-to-box midfield technician. Napoli have been linked with 25-year-old Stanislav Lobotka, a player that is much better suited to being Gattuso’s midfield controller. Excellent in possession, the Slovak is a player capable of dictating the tempo of a game, crucially providing the balance that Napoli require in this area.
Signing a player in the mould of Lobotka would provide Gattuso with variety and flexibility. Fabian Ruiz and Allan would be the obvious choices to flank the Celta Vigo man, but Polish international Piotr Zielinski is also a strong candidate here. With Zielinski also able to play in a more advanced role, this starts to open up options for Gennarino.
Napoli are still a team that have the majority of the possession on a weekly basis, but are only the ninth top scorers in Serie A, despite averaging a league high of 20 shots per game. Arkadiusz Milik is the centre of the attack, but his supporting cast is flexible. Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens have been great servants and fantastic players for Napoli, but there is an argument to be had that their time is done and ushering in the Lozano era is paramount if the club are to maintain their standards of years gone by.
Captain and hometown boy Lorenzo Insigne is another that divides opinion, but remains the Napoli player with the most decisive attacking output, contributing three goals and four assists so far. However, with Napoli reportedly on the hunt for winger, Insigne could be another that is deemed disposable.
Linked with Inter’s Matteo Politano and Yannick Carrasco, it would appear that Gattuso wants to add speed to his front three. An attack comprised of Milik, Lozano and potentially Politano or Carrasco would be hard working, direct and dangerous. Providing further dynamism to his line-up and complimenting the quality coming from midfield, it would be a team capable of creating and scoring goals, but with added physicality.
Napoli’s struggles are not due to a lack of quality, but they need to be taken in a new direction. Sticking by a few players that aided Napoli’s growth is admirable, but it can have an adverse effect when they are no longer hitting the same heights. Gennaro Gattuso needs to be ruthless, he has no ties to this group and could be the ideal man to make those tough decisions.