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Serie A Preview! The Big Eight Download: Can Napoli Stop Being the #2 to Juventus?

For seasons Napoli have been the second team in Italy. Can their most recent purchases help push them ahead of the team in Turin, or will they continue their run of finishing 2nd?

The expectations out of Naples last season was that Napoli would compete for the scudetto. After matchday 7 it seemed like they would not be able to make a strong challenge. A loss to Sampdoria and then Juventus showed that the 2018/19 season would not bring any silverware to the south of Italy. However, some of this was because of the strength of the league. The challengers to Champions League qualification had grown stronger and gave Napoli issues. The six games they played in the Champions League showed that this team is ready to make a push in Europe. Italy has improved greatly in the last three seasons and Napoli has spoken about trying to be more competitive and signing players like Kostas Manolas shows that. De Laurentiis is going to need to keep injecting quality into his side if he expects them to start winning trophies. Next season will really dictate where Napoli go in the future.

Carlo Ancelotti is still one of the premier coaches in Europe. His 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations are very dynamic with where their players lineup on the pitch. The left side of the attack has been able to take on the likes of Liverpool and PSG and produce offense. The man issue with Ancelotti’s system is that the offense is produced from the left side of the field and allows for counters down the same side. The addition of Manolas may mean that Napoli will become more dynamic with how they attack the field. Hsyaj could be given more responsibility in build-up this season. He has been kept back because of Callejon’s role; however, he may be able to join into attack more now. Napoli has spoken about how they would like to compete; next season should bring them back to 2nd and a better challenge to 1st.

The Goalie

Alex Meret and David Ospina will continue to split time in goal. Meret has shown that he has quality but needs to grow. Meret began the process of winning the net last season and will most likely be the top keeper by the end of next season. He has shown flashes of quality and is young. His ability to grow in the coming season is invaluable to Napoli. Ospina will be a good backup goalkeeper and can help progress Meret in the future. The plan should be that Meret goes into the season as the starting keeper. Unless there was a string of calamitous appearances from Meret, he should maintain his starting role. Ospina will provide good cover in the Coppa Italia and against the lesser Serie A sides, like Brescia.

The Defense

Adding a center back with the quality of Manolas will alter the direction of a team. He is one of the premier center backs on the peninsula and will change how Ancelotti deploys his offense and defense next season. Ancelotti has a tactical tendency to let his left-back run up and join the attack as much as possible. In both the 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formation, Ghoulam or Mario Rui will press high up the pitch and play off of Zieliniski and Insigne in the attack. Much of the Napoli attack comes from the left side of the field and the ability of Insigne to create space and passes. The ability to attack down the left was made possible because of the quality of Koulibaly and the fact that he can cover most counters. The introduction of Manolas should allow Hysaj to join more in the attack. Koulibaly is possibly the top defender on the peninsula and has shown that he is one of the hardest men to beat. The duo of Manolas and Koulibaly will challenge almost any duo as the best on the planet. They should help lock down the Napoli defense next season.

Prior to Manolas’s introduction, Hysaj would enter a holding role in behind Callejon or Mertens. Typically, he would be in line with Allan. With Manolas providing more cover, Hysaj should be able to progress further up the pitch. In a 4-4-2, if Callejon is still used in his old role as a right-winger, then Hysaj will still be caught back. Ancelotti will need to create a new dynamic for Napoli’s attack so that they can progress on their 2nd place finish from last year. A lot of that attack comes from the roles of the wingbacks and the quality of the center-backs.

The Midfield

Allan will continue to be the key man in midfield. His ability to stop an attack is crucial to the Napoli midfield. He is a high-quality midfielder and will continue to provide the structure for Zielinski and Ruiz to progress. He plays the stopper role for Napoli in the midfield and helps progress the ball forward as well, although not his main role. Allan is not the best passer in the midfield, but he is the most important midfielder for the team. He prevents attacks as well as any defensive midfielder in the world.

In a 4-4-2 Zielinski will lineup as a left-winger, but then slide into midfield and attack. He is the mezzala for the team and its most attacking midfielder. He provides support for the front three and will be a crucial help in the offense as a pivot. His movement into the middle of the field lets Ghoulam move into the space vacated on the left-wing. Zielinski can also make runs into the box that allows the crossing of the wingers or left-back an extra target in the box.

The most interesting, and could possibly become the undisputed #1 in midfield for Napoli, is Fabian Ruiz. He has replaced the Jorginho sized hole in the Napoli midfield and should continue to do so next season. His passing can create offensive oppurtunites for the attacking three. He can change the direction of attack with a single pass. If the team changes to a 4-3-3 then the trio of Allan, Zielinski, and Fabian Ruiz will help provide three of the most important skillsets that are needed for a successful midfield.

The Attack

Dries Mertens, Arkadiusz Milik, Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, Simone Verdi, Adam Ounas.

These are the players that lead the line for Napoli. The most important trio of these players is Mertens, Milik, and Insigne. This trio has been a part of one of the most dynamic attacking units on the planet. Mertens can play the right side or centrally, Milik plays more of an out and out striker, Insigne plays the left and drops deep. Callejon is the primary backup or a right-wing starter in a 4-4-2. He plays wider than the other three men listed above and is a crosser primarily.

Mertens is the highest statistic producing of the three. He’s contributed to over 20 goals in each of the last three seasons. He has a tendency to drop deep and progress his runs forward. His in the box movement is quick space interpretation to create separation from markers and latch onto crosses. He also has an incredible shot and can find the top of the net with ease. Mertens is difficult to defend unless the game becomes one of aerial crosses.

Insigne shoots a lot and he scores a lot. But those two rates are not quite the same. His banner season came in 2016/17 when he scored 18 goals and had 9 assists. Last year he was at 10 goals and 6 assists. He plays the left side of the field and will also drop deep to help progress the attack. Insigne works off of the left-back in attacking positions and will also play off of Mertens. The two of them make aggressive attacks that tend to have one of the two them having a ball played in at pace that meets the other one in stride. Their quick movement helps generate space and creates goals.

Milik plays more of a typical big man striker. He benefitted a lot last season from the fast passing and crossing style of Napoli. Next season should have more of the same. Milik will continue to score at an impressive rate and could win a Capocannoniere.

The Prediction

Napoli will either finish 1st or 2nd and most likely it will be 2nd. Juventus has bolstered their squad too much to be caught by anyone right now. However, Napoli may impress in Europe and make a run deep into the Champions League. They have already challenged the premier clubs in Europe, and next season they should be able to turn some draws into resounding wins. The addition of Manolas will allow Ancelotti to use the space allotted on the field more completely. The already impressive tactics from Ancelotti will become more realized next season.

Icardi could still come to Napoli and provide another injection of quality. He is one of the premier strikers in Italy and could benefit from the precise passing of Napoli. Icardi is still a top scorer on the peninsula and possesses the tools to carry a team.

Napoli will continue their project, they may not win a trophy, but they will be more competitive next year. There should be positives of this progression, but the team will need to win something soon.