Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

In the top two of Serie A, a small tubby Argentine, a tall South American target man, packed out crowds at the San Paolo. No this isn’t a flashback to the late 80’s, it is 2011 and the new face of Napoli.

Join guest writer Paolo Mancini as the Napoli_Blogger preaches from the pulpit on a Neopolitan resurrection.

Much time has passed and plenty of water (players,owners and money for that matter) have flowed under the bridge since Napoli were involved in a Serie A title race.

The last two decades have not been kind to Napoli fans. First Maradona’s departure, then the financial troubles of the 1990s which lead to players such as Danial Fonseca, Ciro Ferrara, Fabio Cannavaro and Roberto Ayala all having to leave the club to keep things afloat.

Napoli were living a hand to mouth existence until the inevitable happened and the club were relegated from Serie A and eventually declared Bankrupt in 2004.  I could bore you with the story since then but It has been written before and by better people than myself.

From when the club started again in 2004 to the present day the fact Napoli are in a S-race (purposely not writing the word for fear of jinxing club chances) is an amazing story.  And yet, if you look closely, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at all.

Today’s Partenopei

Napoli are in the midst of an excellent campaign and full credit given to Napoli manager, Walter Mazzarri. As a strong motivator, shrewd tactician and a coach the players really enjoy working it looks as if the club finally found the right man for the job.

Mazzarri gets the best out of his players and has installed a never say die attitude… as seen on numerous occasions with last minute winners helping to salvage all 3 points from Serie A battles.

Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, both starting XI players, have matured under Mazzarri’s guidance and others such as Salvatore Aronica and Hugo Campagnaro are pushing themselves to levels never thought possible.

Moving up the Napoli chain, Sporting Director Riccardo Bigon is proving to be a hit in the Mercato (transfer market).

Any man that does business with Maurizio Zamparini and delivers Edinson Cavani for the price agreed, has to be worth his salt. Bigon has moved well to bring in highly rated Spanish defender Victor Ruiz from Espanyol before other bigger teams came in, and moved a number of highly paid squad players on to Serie B sides, so much so that Napoli’s wage bill now stands at under €30 million per annum, a fraction of some of the ‘bigger sides expenditure.

This brings me on to owner Aurelio De Laurentiis, and what more can be said about the man? Without him the new look Napoli would not exist. Gone are the days of Bankruptcy and living beyond their means, for this all Napoli fans should be grateful.  De Laurentiis has a plan and intends to stick to it. You just have to see the amount of Napoli branded merchandise to see the path the club are taking, Napoli are now a Brand rather than a club, anyone after a Napoli branded TV?

The Formation

None of what is happening this season can be done without a squad of footballers of course.

One of the issues this Napoli team has had since it arrived in Serie A has been the defense.

Napoli have always played with a back three. Something Edy Reja brought in during the Serie C days, Roberto Donadoni never changed it in his short spell and Walter Mazzarri loves to use three at the back. The problem was Edy Reja and Donadoni didn’t have the back line organised. Walter Mazzarri has brought in solidity, form and structure.

If you want to see the difference a coach can make look at this. The starting back line is the same now as before Mazzarri arrived…. Morgan De Sanctis, Paolo Cannavaro and Hugo Campagnaro and Salvatore Aronica. A porous defence is now a solid defence, something I thought I would never see with someone like Aronica in the line up.

Mazzarri’s 3-4-2-1 formation relies on tireless work by the wing-backs. Napoli are blessed with one of the best in Serie A, the right footed Christian Maggio. ‘Superbike’ as he is known by the fans. Maggio is an excellent wing-back. He has an amazing burst of speed, the odd trick and he is a terrific crosser of the ball.

On the left side we have Andrea Dossena, now he may not be as flashy as Maggio but he ‘does a job’. As back up Napoli have Juan Zuniga who is very adaptable and can also play as a vice for Lavezzi, or at left or right wing back

In the middle of the pitch is where all the hard work is done.  With Michele Pazineza, Walter Gargano and Hassan Yebda you are not going to find a lot of flair, but you will find players with the ability to break up the oppositions attack, provide proper service to Napoli’s  forwards and a superior work ethic. If you follow me on twitter, or begin to you’ll know I give a lot of stick to these players, Pazienza in particular, however I recognise they do an important job for the team, essentially the job nobody wants, sitting in midfield and marshaling the entire squad.

In all of this solid defending and excellent wide play match results would be less than desireable if not for that ability to place ball in the goal and Napoli are blessed in this department with spades.

During pre-season Riccardo Bigon and Walter Mazzarri drew up plans for the upcoming season, a new striker was needed. Maxi Lopez and Alessandro Matri were names banded around and yet nobody outside of those two thought about Edinson Cavani.  Cavani is a player who had always played as second striker, a supporting figure at both Palermo and Uruguay.  Could the burden of such a high price tag and playing in a position relatively new to him take its toll? 20 goals in 26 Serie A games should speaks for itself and all of this because Mazzarri spotted the obvious, a tall rangy striker with a some speed and incredible natural ability, play him up front as the main striker and watch the fireworks.

Napoli are by no means a one man strike force with Marek ‘the hedgehog’ Hamsik and Argentine schemer Ezequiel Lavezzi the 3 hitman make an explosive trident. Three players with different styles all capable of destroying opponents and all capable of stepping up when the others aren’t having a good day. Napoli also have two able backups in Giuseppe Mascara and Cristiano Lucarelli both ready to step in if needed, Mascara will surely be called upon as Cup and League commitments compress the closing stages of this season’s campaign.

The Here and Now

Napoli now go into the most amazing week in the clubs very recent history. An away trip to Villarreal in the Europa League followed by a possible title decider at San Siro against AC Milan, all in the space of a week. Both games are vital. Napoli must travel to Spain and avoid defeat to have a chance of making the Europa League final 16, not easy to do against a side with an excellent home record. But having scored nine goals away from home in four European games never an impossibility for the Partenopei .

The visit Milan’s San Siro will be without Ezequiel Lavezzi who will be finishing out his 3 match banned for spitting. Should be a very tough challenge, but whats the point in playing football if you are not faced with challenges.

Napoli have only lost once this season when ‘Pocho’ hasn’t played, a nice statistic but one which doesn’t tell you that AC Milan will be the toughest side Napoli have faced without him.

So, It’s a week set up for glorious failure then? If I am being honest then Napoli will in all likelihood get knocked out of Europe on Thursday night and will tail off towards the end of the Serie A season….however Walter Mazzarri and all those connected with this Napoli team leave me with a small sense of hope it can do anything.

In the words of Gabrielle Marcotti, ‘If Spurs can beat Milan in the San Siro then so can Napoli’…………

  • Ted

    should be a good game.

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