Have Partenopei strengthened enough to go the distance with Roma and Juve?
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Click Here to read Inter Milan: Serie A 2014/15 Season Preview.
Click Here to read AC Milan: Serie A 2014/15 Season Preview.
Following on from a relatively quiet summer transfer window, Napoli were eliminated from the Champions League by Athletic Bilbao this week to start their season under pressure.
Having delayed their moves in the market in order to wait to see if they were able to reach the group stages of Europe’s premier competition, the Europa League will be of little consolation to Rafa Benitez who had hoped to build on his first season in charge.
A respectable enough third-placed finish coupled with their Coppa Italia success was deemed a success on his return to Italy, but many expected his side to kick on and improve in the season ahead.
Instead, their defensive frailties were exposed by Athletic and certain individuals may well be questioning their futures at the club with a lack of Champions League participation.
Perhaps the biggest success at this stage will be to keep the majority of the squad in tact, with Jonathan de Guzman, Michu and Kalidou Koulibaly the only notable arrivals to date, and this is where owner Aurelio De Laurentiis should also share the blame.
Make no mistake, Napoli still possess a strong squad that is capable of challenging for the title, and there is an argument to suggest that the players will settle further in Benitez’s system and style having gained a sense of familiarity over the past 12 months.
However, they desperately needed strengthening this summer in order to be able to sustain that challenge for the Scudetto, as too often in recent years have they fallen off the pace after a promising start to the campaign.
With Pepe Reina moving on to Bayern Munich, Brazilian Rafael Cabral is expected to establish himself as the club’s No.1 goalkeeper, with Koulibaly slotting into the defence which is still not strong enough for a title winning side.
The likes of Miguel Britos are liabilities at the best of times, and Benitez is still lacking depth in certain positions which could become a problem with injuries.
Further afield, de Guzman does add solidity in the middle of the pitch while Jorginho will look to develop his game further this season and showcase the undeniable talent that he possesses.
In contract, speculation continues to surround Gokhan Inler’s future, and although the likes of Walter Gargano and Blerim Dzemaili are solid individuals, are they of a calibre and class that will win a team a league title?
Napoli’s biggest strength is their attacking options, but it is rapidly becoming all about how many goals Gonzalo Higuain can score. While every team has their talismanic goalscorer, it is a worry how much the Partenopei depend on him.
More is expected, and demanded, from club captain Marek Hamsik, while Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne must all play their part if the club is to be successful.
Without Champions League football, Serie A will be the primary focus this season and as a result it is unlikely that Napoli will fall out of contention for a top-three finish.
However, there are doubts over whether or not they have done enough to become a legitimate contender for Juventus’ crown, and so they may well spend the majority of the season looking over their shoulder as opposed to chasing their rivals for the Scudetto.
Key Player This Season: Gonzalo Higuain.
Most Impressive Transfer This Summer: Kalidou Koulibaly.
Prediction: Serie A – 3rd.