Now is a good time to be a Napoli fan. The Azzurri currently sit in second place behind Milan in Serie A, and are emerging as serious challengers for the Scudetto this season. The question is, can Walter Mazzarri’s men keep up their good form and cope well enough to keep pace at the top with so many fixtures mounting between now and the business end of the campaign.
President Aurelio De Laurentiis has already played down the idea of the Club being title chasers, stating:“’Scudetto’ is a word that we will happily leave to you journalists.”
Nevertheless, on paper it appears Napoli do have many of the credentials needed for a side challenging for the title. Only three teams in the league boast a better defensive record, and enough has been written about the form of Edinson Cavani and Eziquiel Lavezzi for their attacking prowess to be beyond doubt.
However, the first team alone does not win championships. Squad depth is a major issue for any side bidding for glory and Napoli are no exception to that rule. Should Cavani or the like pick up injuries, it would be a serious blow to the Club’s challenge.
The summer departures of German Denis and Fabio Quagliarella left the Club with a threadbare frontline, with only veteran Cristiano Lucarelli and the untried Nicolao Dumitru as real back-up. The squad also seems remarkably shallow in the midfield area since Luca Cigarini was sent on loan to Sevilla, leaving no obvious replacement for Marek Hamsik.
Mazzarri will be wary of demanding too much from his squad as they compete for silverware in Serie A and the Coppa Italia. They are also the only Italian side left in the Europa League and progression there could prove more of a hindrance if Serie A remains the number one focus. Nevertheless, any misgivings regarding squad depth could easily be solved with a productive week in the transfer window.
Rumours of interest in Catania forward Maxi Lopez and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel from Dutch side Utrecht suggest that the attack may be strengthened, while Gianluca Grava’s recent injury has led to a possible move for Espanyol defender Victor Ruiz.
In terms of performances, the Azzurri are currently ticking most of the boxes required of title contenders. A gritty 2-0 win over Bari showed they can grind out results in difficult circumstances and against determined opposition, while a Cavani-inspired 3-0 win over Juventus demonstrated the ability to defeat their Scudetto rivals.
There are many positives, then, as Napoli continue to chase Milan at the top of the table, but their form must continue through the next month when they face Sampdoria at home and Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Serie A, as well as other energy-sapping cup ties against Inter and Villarreal in the Coppa Italia and Europa League respectively.
Only time will tell whether the Azzurri can emerge from February unscathed, but as tough as their schedule is next month, there is still more than enough room for cautious optimism at the Stadio San Paolo.