The acquisition of three new players and Edinson Cavani’s impending debut means there is a sense of optimism at the Stadio San Paolo. The clubs attention now turns to Thursday night’s clash with Elfsborg. Napoli have a slender 1-0 lead in the Europa League preliminary tie, after Ezequiel Lavezzi’s winner in the Campania region, but the second leg in Sweden may prove to be tricky.
Walter Mazzarri was content with the first leg victory last week. “We played against a team that had played about twenty league matches and are one of the best team in Sweden,” Mazzarri said. “But in spite of this we dominated the match. Of course it was important to win and not to concede goals and we were great. We had 20 shots on goal and created about ten clear opportunities. I congratulate the team for its game intensity. We were able to attack when we were tired. But, we had to be more clinical to close the result. Maybe we lacked decisiveness in front of goal and this could be due to fitness not being at the desired level yet.”
Mazzarri, and indeed President Aurelio De Laurentiis, were concerned about playing an Elfsborg team who were at the peak of their fitness. This is due to the early start of the Swedish season, whilst Napoli had not completed their pre-season preparations. Despite only winning by a small margin in their home leg, meaning Thursday’s encounter in Sweden will be difficult, Napoli should surely be a sharper unit with an extra week’s worth of training under their belt.
Mazzarri lined up with three defenders in front of goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis in the first leg. The indispensable captain Paolo Cannavaro played alongside Gianluca Grava and Salvatore Aronica. This meant Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena were pushed up the pitch and played on the right and left wings respectively, with three midfielders between them. Michele Pazienza and Walter Gargano were the holding midfielders which allowed Marek Hamsik to play an attacking role, supporting Mazzarri’s two strikers. Cavani was left on the bench due to Mazzarri’s belief he was short of match practice. This clearly influenced his team selection as he favoured last season’s pairing of Fabio Quagliarella and Lavezzi to lead the line.
Cavani’s inclusion will be the discussion point for Napoli’s fans. The £14m signing certainly has not been bought to sit on the bench, so it is a matter of time until Mazzarri works out how to fit him in. Lavezzi and Quagliarella are important players for Napoli in their own right, so it would be difficult to conceive if Mazzarri left one of them out in favour of the new Uruguayan striker. It is more likely that Napoli’s system will have to be tinkered with to accommodate all three up-front.
“I like the trident”, Mazzarri admitted after Cavani came off the bench last week to play alongside Quagliarella and Lavezzi. “A good experiment. Cavani is closest to the goal, and has good intensity. Clearly everyone has to be good to have such an offensive team, but I’m sure this formation can be suggested again in future during a match.”
Cavani is Mazzarri’s only selection conundrum for Thursday’s clash with Elfsborg, but things will get tougher for the Coach when the new Serie A season kicks off. This week’s three new arrivals – Algerian midfielder Hassan Yebda, veteran striker Cristiano Lucarelli, and Argentinean winger Jose Sosa – are all ineligible for the Europa League preliminary rounds because they were not Napoli players when the registered squad list was announced prior to the first leg against Elfsborg last week. However they will be watching to see how they may fit into
the Coach’s long-term plans.
Yebda, who is on-loan for the season, is a like-for-like replacement for Luca Cigarini, who has been loaned to Sevilla. The ex-Portsmouth tough-tackler should be back-up for the defensive midfield roles. Lucarelli, who is also a loan signing, has a proven track record for scoring goals in Serie A. His age suggests that he will also act as back-up for Mazzarri’s first-choice strikers, whether he chooses to field two or three at a time. Sosa cost De Laurentiis £3.5m so the club ought to have big plans for him. If Quagliarella, Lavezzi and Hamsik all support Cavani in attack, Sosa is capable of playing in any of the three positions behind the main striker. His versatility could be key in a season where Napoli’s assumed European football will mean they need a larger squad.
Mazzarri may be reluctant to change a winning team after last week’s victory over Elfsborg. Considering Napoli are still in pre-season training, the Coach may opt for his tried-and-tested formula to navigate past the Swedes, although Cavani’s presence may give him a selection headache.