In an odd sort of way, Maurizio Sarri might see the bright side to Arkadiusz Milik being ruled out for four to six months. Losing their top scorer and heir to Gonzalo Higuain inevitably knocks down the expectations of a Scudetto push, something the Coach has been trying to do since he took charge.
When Sarri continually complains about Juventus having double Napoli’s revenue, he is trying to take the pressure off his players. The Partenopei, much like this weekend’s opponents Roma, have a tendency to soar on the wings of enthusiasm and plummet the moment they encounter a problem. They also relish the underdog status and cannot bear the burden of expectation. Just look at Napoli’s spells on top of the Serie A table – always short-lived, because once they clamber up there, the fear of failure sets in.
Understandably, Sarri has always worked to keep Napoli fans and above all the media seeing them as plucky outsiders who’d create a dream scenario against all the odds, an Italian Leicester City the whole world can root for. It’s not an image that fits this club, of course, but his reasons for trying to keep expectations down make a lot of sense.
Milik’s injury could see the Azzurri lose their way horribly, feel bereft of hope and unable to reconcile Manolo Gabbiadini with the genuine centre-forwards he is asked to replace. On the other hand, it could bring the best out of Sarri’s tactical guile and the versatility of his players.
Considering the speed at which Napoli love to pass the ball, a False 9 system sounds very intriguing and would give the chance for both Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens to shine simultaneously. Changing their way of playing could also benefit Gabbiadini, who has proved time and again that he can’t just be dropped into Higuain’s shoes and expected to perform the same role. He’s the falsest nine of all.
Above all, this devastating loss will force Napoli to band together and work as a team rather than be tempted to rely on a hitman, as they have done so much in recent years with Higuain first and Milik later. Pipita’s exit was meant to spread the responsibility for goals around the side, but instead that attitude was quickly replaced by looking to Poland international Milik in the same way they had the Argentine. It’ll ultimately lead to the same problems.
Signing a free agent has been mentioned, but we’ve seen how long it takes Sarri to trust new players with his complex tactical movements, so by the time Miroslav Klose or Dimitar Berbatov got accustomed to it, Milik would be back anyway.
Jose Callejon has been very prolific already this season and could flourish in a False 9 role, as he never stops running or harassing opposition defenders. He can make the side less predictable in attack, able to provide assists as well as goals and roam around the front line.
When Milik does return, he’ll hopefully find himself in a unit that works well with this new tactic, meaning they can use either approach to remain versatile and surprise the other teams. In the meantime, Sarri can fully embrace the underdog status and quietly go about forging a side with Scudetto aspirations, but certainly not expectations.
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