Napoli: 2018/19 Serie A Preview
Having pushed Juventus close last term, Napoli will hope for more of the same in the coming season. But can they maintain momentum under new boss Carlo Ancelotti?
The Maurizio Sarri era was exhilarating for Napoli fans, but reaped no rewards in terms of silverware. To address that situation, the club has turned to one of Italy’s most experienced and decorated coaches.
Under any other circumstance, the club would have greeted Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment with overwhelming positivity, but after the whirlwind of the Sarri years, it felt like a safe option.
Any hopes his arrival would draw big name signings disappeared when the club quashed rumours one by one during the transfer window.
Fortunately for Napoli, they already have a strong squad so they did not need to make wholesale changes. But there are concerns that such a dramatic shift in coaching style could set the club back this season.
2017/18 Season Review
Napoli finished last season with 91 points, a haul that would have put them level with Juventus in the two previous seasons and would have won them the title four years ago.
Many accused Maurizio Sarri of not having a Plan B, but his Plan A was so effective there was little need for one. More flexible coaches have achieved much less without such scrutiny.
Such was the Partenopei’s threat, Juventus could not pull their oars up at any point. And football fans around the world watched as the contenders drew every ounce of fight from the Old Lady.
The story validated its foreshadowing tone as hope turned to despair in the final passage, Kalidou Koulibaly’s header in Turin marking the volta in the tale.
The influx of big names did not materialise, but the recruitment team were busy. Central midfielder Fabian Ruiz arrived in a £27 million deal from Spanish side Real Betis, while they recruited Simone Verdi from Bologna to add further strength to the wide midfield areas.
Flexible fullback Kevin Malcuit made the switch from Ligue 1 after impressing at Lille last term. A selection of loan deals and free transfers completed business.
Of the players to return from loan spells, Roberto Inglese looks set to step up after netting 13 times for Chievo last season.
Jorginho was the highest profile departure, lured to Chelsea by a £50 million fee and the chance to continue his development under Sarri while goalkeeper Pepe Reina headed north for Milan, leaving the Azzurri light in that position.
Duvan Zapata brought his five-year spell as a Napoli player to an end, switching to Sampdoria under an obligation to buy before being loaned to Atalanta for two years.
Elsewhere, Leonardo Pavoletti completed a pre-arranged move to Cagliari after spending a year there on loan.
Marek Hamsik will adopt a deeper role under Ancelotti but there is no guarantee of a place in the starting XI with Amadou Diawara also in contention. The new boss could play them both depending on the system, but expect to see 4-3-3 formation in the opening games with Diawara getting the nod.
The club might bring in another goalkeeper before the window shuts. If not, Orestis Karnezis will start while Alex Meret recovers from a fractured arm picked up in training.
Ancelotti will rotate more than his predecessor and remain focussed on all cup competitions. The days of Napoli putting all their eggs in one basket are over.
The Key Question: Can Napoli pick up where they left off?
The switch from the high tempo tactics of Sarri to the more measured approach of Ancelotti will impact the players. The Italian tactician struggled to remould a Bayern Munich team drilled by Pep Guardiola and could face a similar issue here. However, his Calcio experience should see him through.
Likewise, the change is style will shock fans accustomed to Sarri’s ways. But any discomfort can be eased with a trophy win — and Ancelotti is a specialist in this field.
With greater focus on cup competitions, the Azzurri could slip out of the top four.
With both Milan teams looking stronger, Napoli’s status as second best is in danger. They need time to adapt to a new system and they need a ‘keeper to suit.
However, they now have a boss with a winning mentality and a track record of success. The target this season is silverware so expect them to fade in the league but push harder in cup competitions.
Keep an eye on Hamsik’s conversion to the ‘regista’ role. His success in that position could be key to the San Paolo club’s season.
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