Napoli are looking to explode this season and are full of confidence, but Dave Taylor wonders if they have enough to take that next step up and lift the title.
After finishing third last season, Coach Rafa Benitez has bullishly claimed that no-one scares Napoli and they will push even harder for the League title and European progression this time around. “We are strong enough to compete with the best teams,” he emphasised. “We definitely respect them but none frighten us.”
Yet despite this confidence and having most positions adequately covered on the pitch, the Vesuviani still lag behind rivals Juventus and Roma in real squad depth. Certainly after their low key transfer campaign, some fans feel rather apprehensive about the new season and during the Paris Saint-Germain friendly aggressively invited owner Aurelio De Laurentiis to spend - not that it appears he has taken notice just yet.
Taking this into consideration Benitez seems to know he has plenty to do, ostensibly both on and off the pitch: “There are a lot of names on the list, but we are where we are and the Coach has to think about preparing his team.”
After preparing Napoli in the pre-season training camp he at least seemed content with their progress in Dimaro. “From a technical and tactical point of view we reached all our planned targets, everyone trained hard and the new signings have adapted perfectly to our work dynamic and everything has been very positive,” he said at the time.
Benitez also experimented with a 4-3-3, possibly feeling a plan B could provide a viable alternative after losing too many points to lower placed teams last season, and plotted with sporting director Riccardo Bigon to find players to help improve on that disappointing record.
However, notwithstanding their hard work, approaches for several defensive midfielders including Javier Mascherano, Cristoph Kramer, Mario Suarez and Maxime Gonalons, whilst talks over Marouane Fellaini have been far from straightforward either.
They did however, have success in finding a vice-Marek Hamsik and a reliable deputy for striker Gonzalo Higuain. Fortunately for them it was in one player, Michu, a maker and taker of opportunities on loan from Swansea. “The Spaniard offers an alternative and allows a different solution in terms of the team’s attacking play,” explained a delighted Benitez.
Napoli also struck gold with 23-year-old centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, who has been a ‘real rock’ in pre-season. With the departure of Federico Fernandez, the Frenchman’s ability to play on the left will permit Raul Albiol to move over the right side of central defence, hopefully allaying the positional problems he was guilty of last season.
Another big plus was that the much-wanted Hamsik, Higuain and Jose Callejon all committed their futures to Napoli amid transfer speculation, which has helped contribute to a settled squad. Players that did leave included on-loan goalkeeper Pepe Reina, defenders Alessandro Gamberini and Valon Behrami.
Meanwhile the buzz word of those left is ‘Scudetto’ and while they aim for the title they also want to reach the latter stages of the Champions League. “We are ambitious and want to do well in Europe but the Scudetto is our objective,” insisted Callejon. Certainly the Spaniard is not alone in his confidence but the addition of a couple of top players in defence and midfield might just make them seem more likely title challengers.
After winning the Coppa Italia and safely securing third spot with over half a new team in his first season, the dedicated 54-year-old now has his own men, is bang full of confidence and determined to add a title to his long list of honours.
The Spanish winger has settled extremely well and can only get better this campaign. After 20 goals in 52 games and 11 assists last season it’s fair to say he devastated defenders down the right, while to say he had a hand in many of Napoli’s 77 goals would be no exaggeration.
Brought in on €1m loan for the season, the Spanish striker offers Benitez several alternatives as an attacking midfielder, a second striker or an out and out striker. With his goal scoring prowess for Swansea and experience in Spain, the 28-year-old could prove to be a bargain, with the option in place to buy him for €8m.
With his natural creativity and spirit, the left-sided forward also deserves a chance to show his effectiveness from a more central position. Factor in his tactical flexibility and ability to change the pace while also setting up chances - for others as well as himself - and he could be very useful to the new Coach.
Cabral; Zuniga, KOULIBALY, Albiol, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Inler; Callejon, Hamsik, Mertens; Higuain
Despite a low key transfer window there seems to be a real desire in a squad that appears to have the right blend of experience and youth to push hard for top billing. However, it will be tough ask to go a couple places better than last season’s third spot.
|Andujar (Catania)||GK||Reina (Liverpool)||GK|
|Rosati Fiorentina||GK||Doblas (released)||GK|
|Koulibaly (Genk)||D||Sepe (Empoli loan)||GK|
|Fideleff (Tigre)||D||Reveillere (Contract end)||D|
|Luperto (Lecce)||D||Gamberini (Chievo)||D|
|Vitale (Juve Stabia)||D||Vitale (Terni)||D|
|R Insigne (Perugia)||A||Behrami (Hamburg)||M|
|Michu (Swansea)||A||Cigarini (Atalanta)||M|
|Dumitru (Reggina)||A||R Insigne (Mantova loan)||A|
|Vargas (Valencia)||A||Dumitro (Veria loan)||A|
|El Kaddouri (Torino)||A|
|Calaio (Catania loan)||A|