Napoli seem to have brought a run of poor form to a halt with two consecutive victories. Although these 6 points have launched the Partenopei back into contention, Maurizio Sarri’s side still has a host of issues to deal with. The match against Empoli seemed to be the perfect example of what the Azzurri have become since the loss of Arkadiusz Milik. They were able to kick the ball around their opposition’s half with ease. Napoli found space effectively, had accurate passing and generally looked lively in possession. The issue however was that much of the ball movement seemed to be taking the team in no particular direction. Passes were played deep wide to the corner flag and then slowly made their way back into the center of defense, the perfect strategy to hold a two or three goal lead, but certainly not the best way to play in a nil nil setting against a bottom of the table club. The lack of incision, coupled with moments of madness in defense, made the first 80 minutes of Napoli – Empoli a gut wrenching experience. This Napoli performance has left fans with 2 major questions about this team’s direction before, arguably, the most important match of the season.
Where are the goals going to come from?
Napoli can knock the ball around wide effectively, but once they get into those wide positions, the wingers and fullbacks seem stranded. This is a result of the team’s lack of a true target man. Simply, there is no one to run around in the box and win an aerial duel or a contested cross. Gabbiadini is not that player, and Mertens certainly is not either. Sarri needs to find a solution to improve Napoli’s scoring because since the loss of Milik, there has been no credible outlet for all of Napoli’s possession. Although the 4-3-3 seems to stimulate impressive ball movement, without a true prima punta there is no way to translate this possession into goals.
What is wrong with the defense?
Last year, Sarri shocked us all by shoring up the Partenopei’s defensive game. This year, especially since the loss of Albiol, the team has been caught napping too many times. The communication and organisation at the back seems to be lacking. Despite the individual quality of Napoli’s back four, individual errors have plagued the team as of late. Koulibaly and Reina have had howlers in the team’s last three games. Christian Maggio, an absolute warrior for the club has looked lost and tired at times. He simply couldn’t be trusted against Empoli. Not being able to trust your second choice right back against a team that has scored only 2 Serie A goals this year is not a situation Napoli should be in.
In order to get back to his winning ways, Sarri will have to address these struggles. Although I am nervous about the upcoming games, I have no doubt that the Napoli manager will be able to iron out these issues. Sarri has proven himself as an intelligent and capable tactician and he has a strong squad at his disposal. Hopefully his players will begin to provide some positive responses starting with tomorrow’s showdown in Turin.
By Nikolas De Stefano