Six matches into the league and two matches into the Champions League, Napoli have won seven matches and lost one vs Shakhtar in Ukraine. In Serie A they have scored at least three goals every game so far, and have won the first six matches of the league for the first time in their history. And yet, there still seems to be something wrong.
If we take a closer look at the matches so far, almost all of them with the exception of Hellas Verona and Benevento were a struggle. Atalanta dominated at the San Paolo, and had it not been for a Zeilinski screamer, Sarri’s men may have fallen at that hurdle. Similarly, Napoli had to dig in deep against Bologna away, only scoring two late goals to give the score a boost it arguably did not deserve. Shakhtar was a bad match all around bar the final fifteen minutes, and Lazio could’ve taken Napoli apart on another day had fortune favored them. Even against Feyenoord, the group’s weakest team, Napoli were not particularly lethal.
The team has done a great job, but there are several concerns at the time of writing. The players tend to have slow first halves before waking up in the second half. Hamsik and Reina are still worrisome, even if they were marginally better on Tuesday. However, perhaps the biggest concern is one that is yet to really hit the team: the squad depth.
Napoli’s bench is by no means mediocre, but the players that are usually on it cannot really be labeled as world class. Maksimovic, Chiriches, Tonelli, Maggio, Mario Rui, Zeilinski, Diawara, Rog, and Giaccherini are players who can fill in and help, but cannot carry the team on their own. Worst of all, after Milik tore his second ACL in less than a year, Napoli now have no substitute for Mertens, which is a great cause for concern.
If Napoli can beat Cagliari at the San Paolo on Sunday, they will enter the international break on an excellent note. Once Napoli return, they must play Roma (away), Man City (away), Inter (Home), Genoa (away), Man City (Home), and Chievo (away) in less than three weeks. After that there is another international break.
The first week is particularly worrying. Sarri will have to rotate the squad if he wants to keep his starting eleven healthy and fresh. If he plays the same eleven every match, he will risk injuries that will force him to use his bench a lot more than he would like to. What will Sarri do? Does he play the starting 11 for the first three matches and then rest most of the team against Genoa? Does he rotate two or three players every match and hope the spine of the team will carry it forward? Does he rest the players against Man City home and away and go full force in the league? Or does he try to change as little as possible and hope his guys stay healthy and in form? There is no easy answer.
Although it is a risky move, I would rest the key players against Man City, especially at the first away match. Winning against Roma away and Inter at home would be a monstrous morale booster even if we did suffer a heavy loss against Man City. At the end of the day, Napoli’s top priority is the league. The Champions League can bring in revenue, but the team won’t benefit if they sacrifice valuable points only to exit at the round of 16 or even quarter finals. At this point Napoli needs a trophy, and in order to get their hands on one they will have to make difficult decisions. What difficult choices would you make if you were Sarri?