So close, and yet, so far. This was a season of ‘almost’ for Napoli. Had it not been for that extremely controversial penalty in the semi-final of the Coppa Italis against Juve, we would have gone through to the final. If Mertens’ shot had crept in against Madrid, we would’ve been up 2-0 in the first half, and who knows, we might have even made it through against them. Had we not dropped some foolish points, twice against Sassuollo and perhaps most frustratingly, against Palermo at home, we very well might have finished in second or mounted a serious title run until the very end.
Let there be no doubts: Napoli were brilliant this season. We smashed most of the club’s records, including most points in a season and most goals scored. However, at the end of the day it’s about the titles you win and not the records you break. So what is needed to take that one final step forward?
Pepe Reina is one of my favorite people at Napoli, however as a player, his form has taken a major downturn this past season. High profile blunders versus Juventus, Lazio, Bologna, among others come to mind. Every player is prone to making mistakes, but as a goalkeeper, you are the final line of defense and mistakes can often cost points.
Whether Pepe stays or leaves, he at the very least has to have some serious competition for next season. It is not good for him to know that he will start every match unless he is injured. Some high profile keepers are currently on the market; I personally think we have to go for one of them. Reina is not as reliable as he once was, and if he were to get injured, we would be in big trouble. I would suggest that Reina remain at the club and compete for his position, in the worst case becoming a high profile backup or starting matches in the Coppa Italia. Maybe then we would have some consistency at the back.
The team showed signs of growing mentally towards the end of the campaign. Moving forward, this has got to be our mantra in every single second of every single match of the next campaign. Lapses such as those verse Chievo (away) and Empoli (away) are too risky if the team wants to aim for the Scudetto. Part of this is the team’s mentality, but part this is also down to our tactics. Our high pressure, silky football is amazing to watch, but it is extremely difficult to maintain for an entire match; let alone an entire season. If we can form a habit of gaining leads and closing up shop, we can build real momentum from the start of the season.
Substitutes on the right
Callejon is nothing short of superman. He has played more minutes than virtually any other outfield player in Europe the past two seasons. However, given his age (he is quickly approaching 30), it would be foolish to depend on him in every match. The same goes for Hysaj, who is our only dependable right back at this stage of the transfer market.
We must have a solid RB, and an excellent right winger. If there is one criticism to Callejon, it is that he is not clinical enough in front of goal. Hysaj still has great potential, but he needs to rest from time to time. In addition to a goalie, Napoli must make Callejon’s replacement one of their main priorities.
On his day, there is no better manager than Maurizo Sarri. The problem lies on the days that aren’t his.
When the going gets rough, the rough get going. Napoli have a superb plan A: 4-3-3 with high pressure football. Every coach in Serie A knows Napoli’s tactics and our favorite starting eleven. But what happens when this plan doesn’t quite work out?
The 2-2 draw with Sassuolo particularly sticks to mind, as well as the 1-1 draw at home with Milan last year. Usually when we are down or struggling we switch from 4-3-3 to a 4-2-4 hybrid. While this looks good on paper, it often results in us launching balls into the area and hoping for the best.
3-4-1-2, 3-4-3, and 4-2-2-2 are some formations that come to mind as a plan B, but the point is not in the formation; it is in the game plan. Just as we know our 4-3-3 like the back of our hand, the players need to have a plan B drilled into them for when things are going south. A big part of this goes down to Sarri; he needs to recognize when his tactics are not working as planned. If he can do that, the sky is the limit for the team.
The Winning Mentality
There have been moments in Napoli’s recent history that have made me feel that nothing is impossible for this club. The Supercoppa win against Juve, the two goals we scored in six minutes versus Lazio in the final match of the 2014/2015 season, Lorenzo’s third goal versus Juventus in the Coppa Italia with twenty minutes remaining and of course Insigne’s strike to open up scoring at the Bernabeu. Those mark some very special times when the team proved to me how good it could be.
In order to be the best team in Italy, Napoli must believe they are the best. The players must go into every match looking to win. They must believe and be convinced they will emerge victorious from any match. This mentality is not limited to the coaches and players, but to the fans as well. Our home attendance was disappointing at the beginning of the season before picking up late on; if we truly want to be number one, we have got to jam pack every home game and provide support on the road as well. Sarri has got to enforce this message and the players must help him too. Ultimately, if this team is to achieve the greatness it came oh so close to achieving this year, everyone must give a hand.
What do you think is needed to win the league? Let us know your thoughts below.