In 2005-2006, Napoli was looking to escape dire finances and Serie C1. In 2010-2011, Napoli can credibly claim that it is competing for a Champions League berth. The Partenopei led by their president Aurelio De Laurentiis have been slowly built up and well managed to the point where last season they qualified for their their second Europa League in three seasons. Their big off-season signing of Edinson Cavani gives the team’s supporters hope that they can finish in the top four this year, and their expectations are not outrageous.
Management: De Laurentiis has spent and will continue to spend money to get the right players for his club. His hiring of former Sampdoria manager Walter Mazzarri last season to replace Roberto Donadoni was a good one, as he resurrected the listless club and guided them to sixth place in the standings. He has said the right things this offseason, including making it his goal for the club to continue improving in Italy and in Europe.
The Transfer Market: Napoli’s offseason can be judged a success for two reasons – they signed Edinson Cavani and they did not lose a key contributor to their rivals. Cavani made his name in this year’s World Cup scoring for Uruguay against Germany, but maybe more importantly he can no longer help the team ahead of Napoli in the standings, Palermo. He has scored 34 goals since 2007 and is only 23 years old, so he could blossom further in Marrazzi’s style.
Not leaving on transfer this year were Italian national Fabio Quagliarella or Marek Hamsik. Luca Cigarini was sent to Sevilla and Erwin Hoffer was sent to Bundesliga, but both players can be easily replaced. And to good news is that De Laurentiis has said he is not done on the transfer market and he will wait until after Napoli’s Europa League match against Elfsborg to sign another player, depending on the outcome.
Key Players and the Formation: With the depth in midfield, expect Napoli to field a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-3 formation this season. This will allow some attacking midfielders to move up and support a shallow core of strikers (although they are deep on talent).
Defensively Napoli is an experienced group. Morgan De Sanctis is the starter currently for both Azzurri teams and while not spectacular, the keeper’s spot is solid. In front of De Sanctis will certainly be Paolo Cannavaro but next to him is a bit in flux. Gianluca Grava and Salvatore Aronica are both on the wrong side of thirty, and Hugo Campagnaro and Fabiano Santacroce will likely push to start on defense. Regardless, don’t be surprised if Napoli makes a move to strengthen its defense in the next week.
The star of the midfield is Hamsik. Although he failed to score against Italy in the World Cup, Hamsik captained his team out of group stage and, at 23, is set to have a huge year. He will likely flow between a traditional midfield spot and further up, acting at times as a forward, depending on who else is starting with him in midfield. If Napoli does goes with four midfielders, there will be a log jam for all four spots. Talented players like Juan Carlos Zuniga may come off the bench because there is not a space for him to play.
Pairing with Cavani will be a combination of Lavezzi and/or Quagiarella. Quagliarella needs to carry over his strong World Cup performance into the club season and continue to be strong in the box to add a different scoring dimension. If any of these three struggle, Hamsik could be moved forward in the formation to assist in scoring or Napoli could scour the market for a new body.
Outlook: This team is good, and should do well in the Europa League if it continues to get draws like Elfsborg. Whether it has the depth to compete in the Europa League and Serie A is another question, but the club has enough combinations of players to make it work. Does this team have enough talent to make a run at the top four? Yes if the big name strikers live up to their billing, the backline doesn’t show its age, and the team’s World Cup players play as well as they did in South Africa. Will all these things happen? On that I am slightly more pessimistic.