In light of the train derailment in the Campania region which claimed one persons life and left 30 others injured, football has been put into perspective in the minds of the Napoli faithful. Club President Aurelio De Laurentiis has spoken sympathetically about the tragedy. He also reminded his team that they have a hugely important match later this week against Swedish outfit IF Elfsborg.
Napoli’s European ambitions hinge on success in the Europa League preliminary phase. Coach Walter Mazzarri has vowed that his side will be at the required fitness level to play, and his players will have benefited from a run-out last week in a typically Italian triangular tournament at Palermo’s Renzo Barbera. Before playing the Sicilian hosts, Napoli took on fellow guests Valencia in a 45-minute match, with one eye clearly on Thursday nights European tie.
Mazzarri was missing several important players due to the simultaneous international matches being played around the world, and so Napoli will have to wait until Elfsborg’s visit to field their strongest team for the first time. After Valencia took the lead from the penalty spot after Leandro Rinaudo committed a foul, young starlet Raffaele Maiello equalised to justify his inclusion in place of the absent Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani. Maiello could well be a breakthrough player for Napoli this season after netting his first goal. However his first team opportunities may be limited considering Cavani’s arrival, but he is an exciting prospect nonetheless. The friendly tie was settled by a penalty shoot-out, which Valencia won after Rinaudo missed his spot-kick.
The second encounter against Palermo gave Mazzarri the chance to give most of his players a full 90 minute run-out, and the match between the Serie A rivals was hotly contested. Palermo were victorious with a single goal which was rather contentious. Javier Pastore seemingly fouled Napoli goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis allowing Massimo Maccarone to net the winner. The goalscorer was later red carded for a wild tackle after the supposed friendly match reached boiling point.
Although Mazzarri was unable to prevent two defeats from the friendly tournament, the most important thing from his perspective will undoubtedly be the extra 90 minutes his players endured which will aid their fitness levels. Cavani and Walter Gargano, away with Uruguay playing Angola, also gained match practise. Cavani, playing the second half, scored a penalty, and Gargano played half-an-hour. Lavezzi was also given 30 minutes in Argentina’s win over the Republic of Ireland, and Marek Hamsik played 45 minutes as Slovakia beat Croatia. Fabio Quagliarella only made a brief substitute’s appearance for Cesare Prandelli’s new-look Italy against the Ivory Coast, and therefore played against Valencia and Palermo.
A potential worry for Mazzarri will be the lack of playing time that his preferred starting line-up have had together. Cavani was of course, their standout signing this summer, with the idea that his arrival could propel Napoli to the next level. His involvement in the World Cup meant he did not meet up with his new team-mates until relatively recently, and has not participated in a single pre-season game. On the other hand, it could be argued that he will be an unknown quantity when Napoli face Elfsborg on Thursday. Where he will be played is still a mystery, and only Mazzarri knows how the big-money Uruguayan will be utilised.
President De Laurentiis has also been discussing the other changes to Mazzarri’s team. German Denis has left for Udinese after seeing first-team opportunities disappear with Cavani’s signing and the emergence of Maiello. Perhaps somewhat strangely, Luca Cigarini has signed a one-year loan deal with Sevilla. The Italian Under-21 international didn’t play as much as he would have liked last season, but remains an intriguing prospect. Napoli have possibly loaned him to give themselves the chance to assess his development over the next season. De Laurentiis also mentioned the possibility of further enhancing the squad before the end of the transfer window. The outspoken President claimed that the two ties against Elfsborg will give him the chance to see what areas of the team need improving.
The promise of new players is interesting for Napoli’s fans, the attention of the club will be on a fairly straightforward European match on Thursday. Napoli will expect to beat Elfsborg at a sold out San Paolo. It may just be a few days before we finally see how Mazzarri’s new Napoli will look with Cavani at the helm.