Club Focus – Napoli – Napoli take slender lead to Sweden courtesy of Lavezzi

Last week’s narrow victory over Swedish side Elfsborg in the Europa League preliminary first-leg has been overshadowed by Walter Mazzarri’s three new arrivals that have been brought in to bolster his thin squad.

NAPOLI23.08.10

Last Thursday, Napoli’s 1-0 home win over Elfsborg has given them a major boost in their bid to reach the group stage of the Europa League. Mazzarri’s men have still not reached optimum fitness ahead of the new Serie A season and face a tricky second away leg in Sweden to ensure their progress. Edinson Cavani was a surprising omission from the starting line-up against Elfaborg. His exclusion was based on the grounds that he hadn’t got to know his new team-mates well enough yet, however he should feature from the start next week. Napoli’s three new signings are also eligible to play some part should Mazzarri select them.

The first arrival was Hassan Yebda. The Algerian international, who featured for his country in this summer’s World Cup, spent last season on loan at crisis-ridden Premier League outfit Portsmouth. His performances in very difficult circumstances were decent, although he couldn’t prevent the club’s relegation. Upon return to his parent club, Benfica, Yebda has found himself out of favour at the Portuguese giants. With competition for places rife, Napoli have snapped up Yebda on loan for the season, with an option to buy him outright for £3.5m next summer. The 26-year-old is a defensive midfield player with an outstanding engine, and has surely been brought in by Mazzarri to cover the space in the squad that Luca Cigarini’s departure to Sevilla has created. Whether Yebda can dislodge the likes of Walter Gargano from the starting line-up remains to be seen, although Napoli will need a larger squad assuming they compete in Europe this season.

Following him through the door to the San Paolo was Cristiano Lucarelli. Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis said last week that Lucarelli is “too old” for his squad and wouldn’t be required, but now has revealed that he was bluffing in order to complete the transfer. Lucarelli, a journeyman striker who belongs to Parma, spent last season on loan at his hometown club Livorno, scoring 10 goals in 28 Serie A appearances. Parma have again agreed to loan out Lucarelli, and Napoli have added him to their ranks. Although Mazzarri once again has an option to buy Lucarelli permanently next summer, at the age of 34, the striker may just be a stopgap signing. He is a proven goalscorer though, most notably in 2004/05 when he was Capocanniere with 24 goals. Napoli’s high-profile signing of Cavani will probably mean Lucarelli will spent most of his time on the bench as back-up, a role vacated by German Denis’ move to Udinese. The striker is a notoriously volatile and the raucous San Paolo may be the kind of stadium to maximise his talents.

The most recent of the three new signings was Jose Sosa. The attacking midfielder has been on Napoli’s radar for most of the summer, and despite confirming their interest in him, it seemed at one point that a potential transfer was dead in the water. Sosa started his career in his native Argentina, playing for Estudiantes. He was a standout player in his homeland, and German giants Bayern Munich paid £5m for him three years ago. The 26-year-old has been unable to hold down a regular first-team slot at Bayern, and spent last season on loan at Estudiantes in a bid to find first team football. Napoli have paid £3.5m for his signature, a significant transfer sum. Sosa is a clever attacking player who plays in a similar role to Marek Hamsik, so it will be interesting to see how Mazzarri uses him, and whether or not he will feature in Napoli’s strongest eleven.

Armed with three new players, Napoli travel to Sweden later this week to finish the job they started at the San Paolo last Thursday. Barring any major hiccups, Elfsborg should be swept aside, with Yebda, Lucarelli and Sosa all eligible to play a part. Maybe more excitingly for the Napoli faithful is Edinson Cavani’s likely inclusion having surprisingly been on the bench for the first leg.

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