Napoli want to improve on their fifth place from last year. Without making their squad much stronger it looks like they have a good shot of doing so.
Goalkeepers : Morgan De Sanctis, Roberto Colombo, Antonio Rosati
Defenders : Gianluca Grava, Miguel Britos, Salvatore Aronica, Hugo Campagnaro, Federico Fernández, Paolo Cannavaro (captain), Alessandro Gamberini, Leandro Rinaudo
Napoli’s defence, in front of the goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis has seen little but important change during the summer transfer window. Last season it was a problem that Paolo Cannavaro, Hugo Campagnaro, and Salvatore Aronica had to play almost every single game because Miguel Britos was at first injured and after that, coach Walter Mazzarri never really trusted him. With the addition of the former Fiorentina defender and Italian fringe national Allesandro Gamberini the depth has significantly improved.
If Britos manages to find the form that made him a stand-out player at Bologna, Napoli suddenly has a defence that most clubs in Italy apart from Juventus could well look upon in envy. The long-lasting left-sided defender Salvatore Aronica, a player Mazzarri has worked with for years and trust to no end, might even find himself as the back-up he deserves to be. Time will tell whether or not the highly regarded (by people who are not Mazzarri) Federico Fernandez will get some chances to shine, although it looks doubtful.
The last couple of seasons have been marked by a strange imbalance in Napoli’s build-ups from the back. The right-sided defender Campagnaro has been the only of the back three able to start attacks by anything else than a long ball towards the wing or the striker. Campagnaro can dribble quite well, and he dares to do so. Neither Cannavaro or Aronica can dribble and they cleverly abstain from trying. It is the hope that either Gamberini or Britos can add a little more variance, ultimately also helping out Zuniga or Dossena on the left wing, since they hitherto have received less to work with than Christian Maggio on the right.
The defence now seem so strong that the decision to renew veteran defender Gianluca Grava’s contract for another year looks utterly redundant. A strong feeling emerges that it only happens because Mazzarri by heart is conservative, sticking to what he knows, paired with the fact that important players in the team, notably captain Cannavaro, wanted his friend to stay. Apart from rewarding loyalty and grit, there is no reason for Grava as an active player in Napoli 2012.
It will be interesting to see how much time Britos and Gamberini will get on the pitch and whether or not Aronica manages to hold on to his spot. Since Napoli is participating in the Europa League it looks like Britos, Cannavaro, Gamberini, Aronica, and Campagnaro will all get a healthy dose of games. Grava is purely back-up and Rinaudo will probably find himself as a panic loanee when the transfer window shuts.
Marco Donadel, Andrea Dossena, Christian Maggio, Omar El Kaddouri, Marek Hamšík (vice-captain), Juan Camilo Zúñiga, Blerim Džemaili, Davide Bariti, Valon Behrami, Gökhan İnler
With the recent departure of the small midfield fighter, Walter Gargano Napoli’s midfield will lack a component it has had for the last five seasons since the club’s return from Serie B. With the purchase of the Swiss Valon Behrami from Fiorentina, the team has been bolstered with an equally experienced and more diverse player. With the return of enigmatic Marco Donadel from his lengthy injury, the number of central midfielders seem adequate. However, it remains to be seen if Gargano could live up to the expectations. It will be quite a surprise if the blond Donadel can raise his level to the Uruguayan’s standards.
The midfield has also de facto been strengthened with one of the team’s stars, the Slovak Marek Hamsik, moving further back on the pitch due to a slight change in system. This will most likely lead to a five-man midfield with Zuniga and Maggio on the wings and the duo of Hamsik and Dzemaili in front of the defensive destroyer Gökhan Inler. This is good news for Hamsik, who now because of the slightly lower position gets more space to embark on his dynamic runs, which so often splits opponents defensive lines.
Napoli have a good first-choice midfield, but there should be concerns over the lack of quality depth. Can Behrami really play Maggio’s wing-back well enough? Will Donadel prove to be more than absolutely mediocre? Will the pair of Dossena and Zuniga be good enough to make the team progress on the left? As it can be seen some questions remain, but even if Gargano’s grit and power will leave a gap, the reshuffled set-up can leave Napoli fans hoping for another good season. The very latest acquisition, the former Brescia player Omar El Kaddouri, is also adding to the optimism – even if he is to be regarded as no more than a squad player in his first season at San Paolo. The hopes are that he, within a couple of years, can become an heir to Hamsik.
Eduardo Vargas, Edinson Cavani, Goran Pandev, Lorenzo Insigne
El Matador Edinson Cavani is obviously the biggest name in Napoli’s attack. One of the best pure goal scorer to roam San Paolo since Antonio Vojak in the 1930′s, he is an important reason that allows Napoli to dream of both domestic and European honors. Not only is he nearly always sharp in front of goal (this Sunday’s huge miss against Palermo is easily forgotten), he is also a fighter one will often see helping out in defence. Cavani is simply one of the best strikers in the world right now and his recent contract renewal is great news for both Napoli fans and fans of Serie A in general.
To support Cavani, Napoli can field the young talents of local boy Lorenzo Insigne and the Chilean Eduardo Vargas. There has been a lot of hype over Insigne during the pre-season. He is coming back to his mother club after two brilliant seasons under the guidance of the present Roma coach, the attack guru Zdenek Zeman. Insigne scored a lot of goals for Foggia in Lega Pro two years ago, and last year he scored a lot of goals for Pescara in Serie B. Now it will be interesting to see how he will cope with the demands of Serie A and Walter Mazzarri. As things are now he will probably be the understudy to the fourth part of Napoli’s attack, the Macedonian Goran Pandev.
Pandev himself is trusted by Mazzarri and looks to be the natural partner to Cavani. Pandev might look heavy but he impressed last season, where he accepted his role as a third-choice striker without any fuss. He scored some important goals and really looked to enjoy life in Naples. That he can be used further back on the pitch adds to his overall package.
The partnership of Pandev and Cavani and the mercurial rise of Insigne leaves the poor Vargas where he was before the summer after the sale of Lavezzi to PSG – as fourth fiddle. He will get his chances in Coppa Italia and Europa League and he needs to prove that the €13 million spent on him last winter was not a mistake. He is talented with the ball, but does he understand what it takes to play in Italy?
Serie A – Napoli can hope for great things this season – and they do. The Scudetto will most likely be out of reach, but Champions League qualification is definitely the objective. The competition however is fierce and the southerners might very well end up on another disappointing fifth place. The prediction is right in between – 3rd.
Europa League – This can prove to be a really big thing for Napoli. The team is clearly good enough to win the whole thing, and if it wasn’t for the general Italian apathy towards the small European competition, they would be among the hot favorites. They will probably field a modified team, but Cavani will play and so will Insigne. Prediction – semi final.
Coppa Italia – Napoli are the reigning champions, but unless they somehow reach the semifinals they will not take this years Coppa too seriously. There are other and more important things to worry about. We will see Donadel, Vargas, Fernandez, and maybe even Grava get some time on the pitch. Prediction – quarter final.