Having watched Napoli out playing French outfit Nice by 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier at the San Paolo on Thursday, it would be safe to say that the Italian giants have something special to offer this season. The home win means that the Partenopei are a step closer to the coveted Champions League place. The passes were flowing, the fans were bouncing and the shots were flying. Whilst understandably a bit rusty, Maurizio Sarri’s boys looked sharp for the most part of the game, and after hearing about their banding together to bring the beautiful city some much-needed league glory, here is a look at what Napoli have to offer at the start of yet another long and treacherous campaign.
Transfer Window: First up, let’s have a quick glance at the new faces in the San Paolo this season. Twenty-year-old wonder-kid Adam Ounas has been brought in from Ligue One side Bordeaux for €10m plus another €2m in bonuses if Napoli qualify for the Champions League. The Algerian made 26 appearances last season, 15 off the bench, playing a combined total of 1223 minutes, notching an impressive return 3 goals and 2 assists. Ounas would most likely slot into Callejon’s right wing position, however his clinical left boot would provide a slightly different aspect to Callejon’s usual game, as he’d have a far greater ability to cut inside and pop off shots.
Comparing Ounas’ previous season to Callejon’s, there are some distinct areas for improvement, similarities and even a few improvements on Callejon’s game. Whilst he made 1.4 key passes per 90 compared to Callejon’s 2.17, he managed an impressive 1.3 interceptions per 90 compared to Callejon’s 0.83. What has so far been impressive from Caelljon has been his development into Sarri’s team with the incredible work rate he offers; managing a 76% tackle success rate pitted against Ounas’ 63%, The Spaniard also offers a clinical 85% accurate pass percentage compared to Ounas’ 71%.
Going forward, Ounas posts some impressive figures, with a 64% of his shots being on target compared to Callejon’s 54%, whilst he successfully completed 63% of his dribbles compared to Callejon’s 57%. This, in accompaniment with what game-time for Napoli he has found this preseason, shows an instinct to take defenders on head on, much like Lorenzo Insigne on the opposite wing, however Sarri will need to improve his defensive work rate and his distribution which at times has been to hold the ball for far too long. Overall, a promising signing and one that the fans would be extremely excited to see grow over the season!
Following this is Mario Rui, the full back joining on loan after a bitter farewell from AS Roma, reuniting with his former Empoli boss Sarri. His previous season left much to be desired, posting a rather low combination of key passes and interceptions, however he managed a 100% rate of successful tackles in the mere 346 minutes he was given. A new fullback would be more than welcome with Christian Maggio aging and Ivan Strinic being the only back up. Rui’s arrival appears as a utility signing, one which will provide some much-needed defensive squad depth and, hopefully, he may find some great form under his former boss.
Tactics: Sarriball was the buzzword in Twitter last season. One search in the micro blogging site would pop up with several twitter handles bearing the name and several gifs of Napoli’s dazzling build up play. So much so, a huge percentage in the football community found a new second-favourite team in Napoli, one of the last bastions of freedom against the tyranny that is Juventus.
With exciting football, a wholesome roster of players and some of the world’s best fans, it’s easy to see why. Maurizio Sarri is none other than the visionary behind such a rapid transformation in the football philosophy at the club. Quick, intricate passing, intense pressing and an overall interconnected cohesion between every player on the field made for a season like no other, making up for the loss of one of the team’s former stars Gonazlo Higuain who joined Juventus.
Sarri’s orthodox 4-3-3 approach shifts to a 4-5-1 in defence, leaving primarily Mertens as the lone striker waiting for a deadly counter attack. Ball-winning comes through sheer aggression, intense pressing either significantly reduces passing pathways for opposing players or forces errors which are quickly swarmed.
The defence was perhaps the team’s most worrying dimension, Ghoulam’s inconsistencies and aerial inability, Hysaj’s tendency to float forward and play just a tad too offensively, whilst Koulibaly and Albiol, along with the roster of new centre-backs, found it difficult to adapt to Sarri’s ground based build up play at times with misplaced passes and lapses in concentration in extremely dangerous situations.
The most recent performance against Nice provided a great deal of assurance that maybe he used the summer to great effect, plugging up those nasty leaks in the mighty vessel. This, along with time, saw Koulibaly and Albiol assuring themselves a greater amount of space when opening themselves up for passes as well as much quicker decision making.
However, this comes alongside a far greater cohesion in the midfield. The combination of the Allan’s ferocity, Jorginho’s composure and Hamsik’s incessant drive and excellent vision provided an intense brick wall which on full show went to extraordinary depths in order to keep the opposing squad trapped in their own half, whilst also contributing to the quick-fire counter attacks.
The front three presented more of the same tenacity, speed and clinical playmaking that we’ve come to love. When deep, as with the first goal, Insigne, alongside Hamsik and Jorginho, provide excellently placed lobs to the likes of Mertens and Callejon who leave oppositions defences in their dust. Further up the field, when hovering outside the penalty area, Callejon, time and time again, darts between opposing defenders into open space, whilst excellent timing from others, most notably Insigne and Jorginho, provide a soft lob over the top, something which happened over five times against Nice.
Finally, as the penalty proved, the speed and insane dribbling ability of Insigne and Mertens’ interplay leads to excellent chances and is ofttimes proves to be an issue for lumbering defenders who, in desperation, lead in with heavy tackles on two lads who prove size doesn’t really matter.
Verdict: There is great hope around the football community that Juventus’ stranglehold over the Serie A title may soon come to an end, Napoli being the most likely successors to their throne. Sarri’s revolutionary footballing has added a dimension of aggression, tenacity and overall an offensive, winning mentality that yearned for during the reign of Rafa Benitez prior.
This opposition to the Serie A’s previously perceive “boring, defensive league” (which has been totally untrue for many years) has shown the world that there hope remains amidst the rubble of the scandal which shook the league a decade prior, whilst the citizens of a city who live and breathe a love for football, longing for the winning days of El Diego, inch closer and closer to the glory they sorely miss, and deserve, and this might just be the season to do it.