Tomorrow night sees FC Barcelona contest the annual Joan Gamper Trophy at the Camp Nou, and for the second successive season, the opposition comes in the form of the 3rd place team from Serie A. While that meant a match against AC Milan last season, tomorrows opponent are Napoli.
Famously the home of Diego Maradona for so many years, Napoli are having somewhat of a resurgence, with Walter Mazzarri leading the club to the UEFA Champions League group stage just seven years after the club was declared bankrupt and relegated to the Serie C1.
In light of this historic match-up, we invited die-hard Napoli fan Kirsten Schlewitz to answer us a few questions on S.S.C. Napoli.
BB: In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Napoli?
KS: I confess I haven’t watched much of Napoli’s preseason, so I haven’t seen the new look squad. Where we were weak last season was in depth and in central midfield, both of which have been improved during the transfer window. Juventus were silly enough to take Michele Pazienza while Napoli landed Gokhan Inler, a massive upgrade centrally. Plus, the club signed something like a player every two days for a couple weeks, preparing Champions League play.
The strength for Napoli is in much more than the attack, although clearly the 3-4-2-1 works wonders for the team. It’s more about the fact that the squad, at least the normal starting XI, is a cohesive unit – they seem to know what their teammates will do not one but two or three moves before it is actually done. Then again, I’m writing this preview for a Barcelona blog, so in this case, Napoli could appear as though they’ve only just been introduced.
BB: Besides Hamisk, Lavezzi and Cavani, who else starts for Napoli?
KS: In the Joan Gamper trophy? Well, with Napoli’s season starting on Sunday, against Genoa, there’s no real guarantee that the Holy Trinity will start. If we’re considering this to be Napoli’s typical starting XI, however, assume you’ll see Morgan De Sanctis in goal, with, I would guess, Hugo Campagnaro, Paolo Cannavaro and Miguel Britos in defence—but our defence is in transition right now, so we could also see Gianluca Grava getting another chance, Salvatore Aronica back in the starting lineup, or even Victor Ruiz fighting for a spot.
Behind the trident, it’s likely to be Walter Gargano and our favourite new boy, Gokhan Inler, with Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena out wide.
BB: What contributed to Edinson Cavani’s breakout season last year?
KS: Cavani was the flash of Napoli last season, no doubt about it, finishing with 26 goals in Serie A. But it was the support of Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi that really allowed Cavani to shine. Many who don’t watch Napoli week in, week out comment that Hamsik isn’t impressive enough, but the partenopei didn’t win once last season without him taking the field. El Pocho, meanwhile, has the strength and skill to win the ball in midfield, take it past the opposing defence, and slide it over to Cavani to create a chance.
BB: Do you like the signing of Gokhan Inler, despite the rather odd way it was presented?
KS: Odd? It was amazing! Bringing Inler to the shirt unveiling wearing a lion’s mask, well, that more or less encapsulates the craziness of Napoli. Inler had been a rumour for at least a year, and when he didn’t celebrate after his goal at the San Paolo last season, the transfer seemed inevitable. Yet it dragged and dragged – so what else could be done to celebrate but put him in disguise? Anyway, yes, I love the Inler signing. He was the midfield maestro of Udinese, and he’s now set to strengthen what is arguably Napoli’s weakest area.
BB: After finishing third last season, what are the goals for Napoli this season in both the Serie A and the Champions League?
KS: Oh geez. I have more confidence in my partenopei than most, who don’t think they’ll pull a Sampdoria (being relegated after starting the season in the Champions League) but at least believe they’ll slip down to sixth or seventh in the league, and fall out of the CL in the first round. I’d say the primary goal for Napoli this season is to finish in the top three again, to make a better run in Europe next season. It’s been decades since the club has been in the tournament, and as sad as it might be for me to admit, they’re just not likely to go far without any experience. If they focus on the league, and make it back next season, they’ll have a better run. And, on paper at least, Napoli are one of the top three clubs in Serie A. They can achieve top three, barring any unfortunate events.
A huge thanks to Kirsten for giving us her time. Be sure to check out her work on 7500 to Holte, the SBN blog for Aston Villa.
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