There is never a dull moment at Napoli with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis.
The Napoli president and film producer seems to always be in the limelight. Leaving the 2011-12 Serie A scheduling ceremony by riding away on a scooter, unveiling a lion masked Gokhan Inler as an official Napoli player and a fake press conference with Edinson Cavani resulting in a contract extension are some events to name a few.
No one was really surprised when on May 22, De Laurentiis cunningly declared that his new manager’s name contained the letter “M.” This remark had everyone pondering and recalling to memory all the available managers who had an “M” in their name. Names like: Mancini, Di Matteo, Montella, Roberto Martinez, and Mourinho were thrown around while Rafael Benitez was also being speculated as an option.
Surely enough it was Benitez who De Laurentiis was referring to, whose full name does indeed have an M (Maudes). De Laurentiis announced via Twitter on May 27 that Benitez would be Napoli’s new manager.
Benitez’s last experience in Serie A did not go smoothly and Inter sacked the Spaniard in December of 2010 – only six months into his contract. With proven success in European competition, Benitez is a better option in this respect compared to former manager, Walter Mazzarri.
Napoli’s signing of Dries Mertens became the first for newly appointed manager Benitez. Mertens, a Belgium international, was purchased after the Vesuvian club agreed to a €9.5 million transfer fee with PSV Eindhoven.
De Laurentiis has been active and aggressive in the transfer market this summer, making clear to all that Napoli will remain a competitive side for the upcoming season. Goalkeeper Rafael was recently purchased from Santos with Jose Callejon and Maxime Gonalons looking to be further additions for the Partenopei.
In terms of tactics, we preview just what manager Rafael Benitez might plan for Napoli next season.
De Sanctis; Armero, Astori (Gamberini/Britos), Cannavaro, Zuniga; Inler, Behrami (Gonalons); Insigne, Hamsik, Callejon (Mertens); Cavani (Pandev)
* Potential acquisitions in bold
The formation change as a whole will take some time getting used to for the Partenopei as far as forming an effective system of play. Under Mazzarri, Napoli utilized a 3-4-3 and later a 3-4-1-2.
Playing with three in the back, Napoli’s style of play focused heavily on absorbing pressure and hitting teams on the counter. Juan Zuniga and Christian Maggio were indispensable in forming Napoli’s counterattacks, which resulted in stretching the opposition and searching for Marek Hamsik to play the final ball to Cavani.
Benitez has stuck by veteran goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, with Rafael chosen as second choice goalkeeper over Antonio Rosati.
In the centre of defence, captain Paolo Cannavaro is definite to start. Alessandro Gamberini and Miguel Britos will be competing to pair up with Cannavaro. Both centre-backs enjoyed significant playing time in Napoli’s back three last season, so there is great competition between the two over a starting position. Cagliari defender Davide Astori is rumoured to join Napoli as Benitez wants to shore up the defence in wake of Hugo Campagnaro’s transfer to Inter. If the centre-back does indeed complete a move to Napoli, he would most likely start.
Pablo Armero and Zuniga look to fill in the full-back positions. Both Colombian internationals are great at getting forward and joining the attack. Maggio will certainly see less action on the pitch as he is better suited as a wing-back.
Inler and Valon Behrami should fill the double pivot with Blerim Dzemaili and Gonalons as replacements. This formation will allow Inler to play as a deep-lying playmaker and Behrami as the destroyer. Dzemaili impressed at the end of the 2012/2013 campaign so he will certainly put pressure on Inler for a starting spot. Gonalons’ arrival at Napoli remains a huge possibility, but would be a good acquisition for Napoli in terms of adding depth ahead of Champions League play next season.
Napoli’s attack looks to be strengthened next season with the likely arrival of Callejon from Real Madrid. Italian international Alessio Cerci is another Napoli target. Edu Vargas could also possibly return from his loan spell at Gremio. Of the three attacking midfielders, Hamsik is set to play in the center with Lorenzo Insigne on the left and Callejon or Mertens on the right.
Insigne has featured in this wide position last season, but did not get much playing time under Mazzarri. With the homegrown Neapolitan already receiving praise from Benitez, Insigne looks set to start. Mertens, standing solely at 1.69m and weighing 55kg, will need to adapt to the physicality of Serie A in order to be successful. However, Callejon remains the favourite to start on the right over Mertens, as Benitez personally wanted the Madrid winger and both share a Madrid connection.
Cavani’s Future and Alternatives
Cavani’s future with Napoli remains in doubt. If Cavani does decide to part ways, Goran Pandev would be the most secure option to temporarily fill in until another striker is purchased. Pandev has all the skills to start but was inconsistent at times last season. The Chilean international Vargas is yet another option.
Regarding striker alternatives, Benitez has made known of his interest in Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, but the Uruguayan has rumoured hopes of joining Real Madrid. Manchester City’s new manager Manuel Pellegrini looks certain to hold onto Edin Dzeko while a deal involving Fernando Torres plus cash to bring Cavani to Stamford Bridge was rejected by Napoli.
What Napoli can expect is a strengthened squad for the upcoming 2013-14 season as they hope to improve on their second-place finish in the league and better their previous performance in the Champions League, all under the guidance of new manager Benitez.