It’s been an up-and-down few days for the Neapolitan faithful. They secured their passage into the Europa League group stages, one of their best players and hometown heroes left in a shocking transfer, only for the club to recover and earn a good result on Serie A’s opening weekend.
Fabio Quagliarella, born and bred in Napoli, and a key part of Walter Mazzarri’s team, was set to form a fearsome attacking trident with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani this season. In the build up to last Thursday’s Europa League preliminary second leg, away at Elfsborg in Sweden, rumours surfaced that Juventus were trying to sign Quagliarella, after their first-choice signing Antonio Di Natale turned the Bianconeri down.
Mazzarri duly left Quagliarella on the bench for the tie, but Napoli still had far too much firepower for Elfsborg to cope with. After Lavezzi earned a 1-0 win in the first leg, Cavani scored his first two goals for his new club on his first start to give Napoli a 2-0 success on the night, and a comfortable route into the Europa League group stages. After the match, Quagliarella was said to have met Napoli Ultras to address the rumours linking him with Juventus. Despite being Neapolitan himself, the shock switch was confirmed by the player, and on Friday he signed for Juve on a season-long loan for 4.5 million Euros, which has an option for a permanent transfer for a further 10 million Euros next summer.
Mazzarri’s selection headache involving Quagliarella, Lavezzi and Cavani in the same starting line up has at least gone. Spirits were raised in the Stadio San Paolo when the group stage draw was made for the upcoming Europa League, which Napoli of course won in 1989. They were handed matches with Romanian side Steaua Bucharest, Dutch side Utrecht, and a mouth-watering meeting with Liverpool. It is a difficult group, but one that Napoli should consider themselves capable of progressing from, probably alongside Liverpool.
Attention quickly turned to the start of the Serie A season, and a very challenging trip to Fiorentina’s Artemio Franchi, which Mazzarri knew wasn’t the ideal beginning for the new campaign.
The Napoli boss said: “It’ll be a match that requires all of our energy and attention. It’s a baptism of fire and a great game against a very strong side that has the advantage of playing on home turf and will do everything to pick up the three points.”
He continued: “It’s going to be entertaining. I consider last season to be a triumphant march to sixth place and now I’d like to carry on where we left off. We want to do well on all fronts: Serie A, the Europa League and Coppa Italia. I strongly wanted to remain at Napoli, despite the fact I had other offers, to grow alongside this squad and this club.”
Mazzarri’s prediction for a difficult contest proved right. His first starting eleven of the new Serie A season contained no surprises, apart from the obvious omission of Quagliarella, who incredibly had already debuted for Juventus in their shock loss to Bari before Napoli even kicked-off.
Paolo Cannavaro, Hugo Campagnaro and Salvatore Aronica made up the three-man defence in front of Morgan De Sanctis. Christian Maggio, Walter Gargano, Manuele Blasi and Andrea Dossena were the four across midfield, with Marek Hamsik in the playmaking role. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani were up-front, while the substitute’s bench featured new-boy Cristiano Lucarelli, although fellow new signings Hassan Yebda and Jose Sosa were not ready.
Cavani, the most expensive signing in Serie A this summer until Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived at Milan, opened the scoring after seven minutes. His header bounced down off the crossbar, and although replays showed it didn’t cross the line, Napoli had the lead.
Fiorentina equalised through Gaetano D’Agostino before the match spilled over into a fiery affair after half-time. First the home side were down to ten men after Juan Manuel Vargas was given a straight red card for violent conduct, but Napoli didn’t have a one-man advantage for long. Blasi picked up his second yellow card of the match sixteen minutes from the end, and after six other players also got bookings, both sides were content to escape from a tough opening day with a creditable point.
The international break means Napoli’s next match is at home to Bari in two weeks. Their immediate attention will turn to the transfer window which closes on Tuesday, meaning President Aurelio De Laurentiis may have a busy few days holding onto his prized assets and trying to improve the squad further.