Season Grade: 9
First off, I know a 9 out of 10 rating seems quite high for a third place finish, however, the more I thought about it, the more I just couldn’t bring myself to give a lower score. Coming into the season, I felt our objective had to be a 2nd or 3rd place finish. The preseason feeling was that Juventus had only gotten stronger and increased the gap between it’s competition by snatching up the best player from each the 2nd and 3rd place team (Higuain and Pjanic). We were supposed to be the side that was Higuain-dependent and due to struggle greatly this year without him. Yet it didn’t take long for Napoli to disprove that theory. Very early on, Napoli were playing attractive football and had found in Arek Milik a player more than capable of fitting in and finding the back of the net with consistency. By mid-September, I was already wondering if this year’s team could be better than last year’s. The team was beginning to show glimpses of the dominant side that we’ve come to see in these final weeks. I argued that without a diva-like striker, Napoli could become a more cohesive unit. Fortunately for us, that’s exactly what happened. Yet in the following weeks, Napoli would lose 2 important pieces to injury, Raul Albiol and then Arek Milik. Napoli would have to rediscover itself for a second time, this time on the fly, and it would come at a price. Before October, Napoli’s winning percentage in all combined competitions was 75% in 8 matches. In the two following months, as Napoli clearly struggled to adjust to life without Milik and Albiol, that dropped down to a measly 27% in 11 matches. By the end of November, Albiol returned to the lineup and Mertens was proving himself capable of filling in as a true number 9. In the 31 matches since the start of December, Napoli returned to their previous winning percentage, winning a total of 23 matches of 31 played with a 74% win rate.
Those points lost while we tried to find our feet without 2 key players, are the difference between finishing 3rd instead of 2nd (coupled with the fact that referees were handing penalty kicks to Roma with a frequency to make guests on the Oprah Winfrey show jealous) and perhaps even pushing Juventus for the title. After we settled in, the squad seemed to hit it’s stride and began to show a growth and maturity we hadn’t seen before. There were certainly hiccups along the way, but over the second half of the season we saw a side that showed a new sense of belief in itself and the development of that winning attitude that we’ve long been demanding. We’ve seen our youngsters Zielinski, Diawara and Rog, play in important matches and prove capable of handling the pressure and provide much needed depth behind the starters in midfield.
It’s that growth that warrants such a high grade for the season. This was always a transitional year, and indeed we seemed to have accomplished that transition quite successfully. What you don’t expect is a transitional year to also be a record breaking year, yet Napoli have done just that. The squad has managed to set the club record for total points and victories and a Serie A record with most goals scored on the road in a single season (50). The Azzurri have less defeats in the Serie A than either Juventus and Roma, and Napoli’s 86 point total at the end of the season would have been enough to win a scudetto in past editions. If you thought the goal of this season was to set the foundation to make a run next year, then you have to be more than happy with the result. Sarri and the boys managed to do that while at the same time having a great run in the Champions Leagues and only being eliminated in the Coppa Italia in very controversial terms by Juventus. At certain stretches in our matches against both Champions League finalists, we absolutely dominated both Real Madrid and Juventus, proving to the world, and perhaps more importantly, ourselves, that we can say our own against the very best sides in the world. For all those reasons – for all the goals, beautiful touches, spectacular play, growth, dreamlike moments and hope this team have granted us, my grade for this season is a 9/10. What do you think? Cast your vote and share your thoughts below!