Statistics are a strange thing. Sometimes they can provide you the most complex of answers and at others they fail to mean anything compelling. A comparison of Napoli’s statistics from last season to this one might lead one to believe that the Azzurri have had a better season than the previous one. But more dropped points (at home once again) will force Walter Mazzarri to take a moment to reflect on what is going wrong at the San Paolo.
The Partenopei’s main concern this season has been their disappointing home form – in just nine games the team has already dropped 14 points which is only three less than the entirety of the previous campaign. The San Paolo fails to intimidate opponents now as showcased by the likes of Parma and Bologna. While some have talked about the over reliance on Edinson Cavani and his fatigue levels following a summer Copa America campaign, statistics tell quite another story. At this stage last season, the Uruguayan hitman had scored 10 goals, currently he has netted nine. More surprising is the fact that Napoli have scored 33 goals this term, whereas last season they were on 27. While the goals conceded figure is the same at 20. So looking at it in terms of numbers, the team has improved and in fact taken the pressure off Cavani to score, finding other avenues in due course.
The team has enjoyed over 51% average possession in every game so far, but their best performances have been characterized by keeping the ball for less time. Against Milan and Juventus, arguably two of Napoli’s best showings this season, they saw as little as 41% of the ball. While, in most of the games where they have been held (Fiorentina, Cagliari, Lazio, Novara and Bologna) the team generally had about 55% possession. The problem for them has been that all this possession has not necessarily translated into more goal-scoring opportunities.
In most games, the Azzurri have had as many shots at goal as their opponents. This was illustrated in the recent game against Bologna, where the Rossoblu had only 39% possession and one corner, but still they mustered more shots on target than Napoli. In fact after drawing level, the Partenopei were almost pegged back through Di Vaio and eventually had to hold out for a point. Teams have started giving them a taste of their own medicine.
But it is not as if Mazzarri didn’t expect this. President Aurelio Di Laurentiis made the right moves in the transfer market with the signings of Gokhan Inler and Goran Pandev to help the team become protagonists in their games. However, while both players have certainly helped Napoli’s cause they have been let down at the back as the team has registered just three clean-sheets so far, and incidentally Bologna was also their third 1-1 draw. It is this habit of conceding cheap goals which is perhaps holding them back this season. Reports are filtering in that the club is interested in bringing Udinese’s Mehdi Benatia in exchange for their young starlet Lorenzo Insigne who is currently at Pescara. Such a move will certainly help bolster the defensive ranks which has looked stretched at various times.
In his post-match analysis of the Bologna game, Mazzarri spoke about the problems with the balance of the team: “The team wasn’t very lucid and sometimes we want to attack so much that we then lose our balance”. The straight-speaking tactician went on to say that the team had overachieved with their Champions League exploits: “We are not a great team yet, we have to understand that and grow. It’s true that we have beaten Manchester City this season, but that was a real miracle.” Such quotes will possibly not sit well with Di Laurentiis who has already tried to fire Mazzarri twice once at the end of last season, and also rumouredly during their game with Manchester City. If the Coach fails to come up with a Plan B soon, he may not be third-time lucky.