2016-17 review

Serie A Pts P W D L F A
3rd 86 38 26 8 4 94 39

Coppa Italia: Semi-Final / Team rating: 9 / Top scorer: Mertens (28) / Europe: Round of 16

Napoli lost star striker Gonzalo Higuain, but didn’t miss a beat due to their sizzling attack and a rediscovered Dries Mertens, writes Vincent Van Genechten.

Sarri's magic continues

It was a hot summer for Napoli, as they saw Gonzalo Higuain leaving for rivals Juventus. Arkadiusz Milik was brought in from Ajax to replace the man who scored a record 36 goals in Serie A, guiding the Partenopei to a second-place finish. Despite also bringing in much needed depth with Nikola Maksimovic and Emanuele Giaccherini, and youngsters like Piotr Zielinksi and Amadou Diawara, there was a feeling that Napoli could struggle to repeat their strong performance in the 2016-2017 season.

During the opening match, the pressure on Maurizio Sarri’s men forced them into a 2-2 draw against promoted Pescara. However, Sarri stuck to his game plan, even when Milik tore his ACL and was out for more than three months. Napoli’s tactician upgraded Dries Mertens from supersub to centre-forward and, frankly, the rest is history.

Mertens scored a sensational 28 goals this season, coming just short in the Capocannoniere race against Roma’s Edin Dzeko, but outscoring Higuain at Juve. The Partenopei’s deadly three-man attack of Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon provided 60 goals and 30 assists. That’s more goals scored than 12 Serie A teams, including Milan.

Napoli played the most entertaining football in Serie A and did it both at home and on the road. They even scored more goals away from the San Paolo, gaining an equal amount of points in home and away games with 43, thereby handing them the title of best away team in Serie A by a clear margin.

In the end, Napoli came up just short of Roma for second place, meaning they are in for a Champions League playoff this summer. On paper, it’s a small step back from last season. In reality, however, the Partenopei were just as strong. Replacing a star striker is never easy, especially when his replacements gets injured. Sarri responded with one genius move and kept his team in the race for second until the final minutes of the season.

Mertens deserves the title of Serie A’s player of the year. Maybe Marek Hamsik is still Napoli’s best, but even the Partenopei captain will admit it was the little Belgian who kept this team going week after week after week. Too bad Napoli’s defence looked a little bit more vulnerable compared to the 2015-2016 season, and goalkeeper Pepe Reina might be entering the twilight of his long career.

Fans will be able to look back at this season with a smile. There’s no doubt that Napoli are on top of their game again, with a team that could be considered their best since the Diego Maradona days and a Coach that demands quality football. Napoli exceeded expectations in 2016-2017 and can only look up from here.   

The Coach – Maurizio Sarri

Sarri proved his first season in Napoli was no fluke. On the contrary, the Partenopei scored even more goals and gained more points than last season, showcasing the most exciting football in Serie A thanks to quick passing, which some have nicknamed the forward-thinking tiki-taka. Sarri found a way to make the fans forget about Gonzalo whatsisname.

Player of the Year - Dries Mertens

Arkadiusz Milik was supposed to come in and provide the goals when Higuain left for Juventus. However, it was Mertens who proved to be Napoli’s top scorer, playing as an unusual centre-forward in a deadly three-man attack. With his 28 goals, the Belgian came just one short for Capocannoniere. 

Highlight – Napoli 5-3 Torino

Napoli scored a total of 90 goals this season, with five of them coming in a 5-3 thrilling home win against Torino. Mertens scored four of them, including three in the first half. He needed just nine minutes to score that hat-trick, then a ludicrous lob over Joe Hart.

Nightmare – Napoli 1-1 Palermo

Roma were Napoli’s biggest rival all season long and eventually beat the Partenopei to the second spot. In Week 22, however, Roma lost at Sampdoria. Napoli had the chance to overtake them, but drew 1-1 at home against lowly Palermo. It was Mertens who saved a point with a second-half goal.

Did You Know?

- Napoli set a club record for points gained in a single season with 86, beating the previous tally set last year.

- Lorenzo Insigne’s 18 Serie A goals are one more than during his three previous seasons combined.

- Napoli scored more goals on the road than at the San Paolo. With 46, they equalled Juventus’ record from the 1949-1950 campaign.