Serie A Predictions for 2011-12 Season: Fourth Place — Napoli

Picking Napoli to finish fourth, a spot behind last year’s finish, is certainly not a popular prediction. Most fans of Serie A fell madly in love with their attractive attacking style last season, and would be happy to see them win their first major trophy in over two decades. But despite the excitement surrounding this terrifically talented team, I still see them dropping a place in the table this year and thus missing the Champions League next season.

The best parallel I can employ to explain this prediction can be found in last season’s campaign from Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs played attractive attacking football two seasons ago, earning admirers throughout the footballing world and a spot in the Champions League, much like Napoli did last year. Before entering Europe’s top competition for the first time, Tottenham spent wisely to strengthen their squad. But despite those admirable measures, the north London club just wasn’t used to the rigors and pressures of playing in so many big games. As a result, they performed reasonably well in both competitions, and should be proud of the season they put it. But it wasn’t enough to win a trophy, or get them back into the Champions League. This is exactly what I see as the greatest danger to Napoli this year.

As I mentioned before, Napoli gained many new fans throughout the world last year by playing exciting attacking football. The club’s stable of young, creative and marauding players, like Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi were a joy to watch. At the beginning of the summer, it would have come as no surprise to anyone, including supporters, if Napoli were unable to hold on to them all. But that is exactly what they have done so far.

And what’s more, they have strengthened the squad in key spots, and nowhere more significantly than in the center of midfield with the acquisition of Swiss international Gokhan Inler from Udinese. Inler will provide the tackling and defensive expertise in the center of the field that should help free their attackers to be even more dangerous.

Last season, Tottenham had two glaring downfalls; finishing and experience. Scoring goals will not be a problem this year for Napoli. But instead, Napoli could very well struggle in defense, which has been something of an achilles heel up to now. They deployed a three-back system last season, and may have taken some teams off guard with their style of play. But that will not be the case this season. It is possible that such a system can be more efficiently exploited by other teams in Serie A and I question how well it will hold up against teams in Europe.

Tottenham’s other big issue last season, a lack of european experience, will be something Napoli will also have to struggle with in the coming campaign. The club has never reached the lofty level of the Champions League and for many teams new to the competition it can be a rather draining experience.

Napoli has become everyone’s second-favorite team in Italy, and deservedly so. With the talent they have they can easily qualify again for the Champions League, or even win the title. Finishing in the top three in Serie A last season was a fantastic achievement for the club, but doing that again, while also competing against Europe’s best teams, is something much more difficult. For that reason, I can see someone else sneaking into third place and Napoli dropping to fourth.

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