After falling to Manchester City earlier this week, and losing Faouzi Ghoulam to an ACL tear in the process, Napoli would be wise to prioritise domestic success over chasing unrealistic European glory this season.
Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli surged out of the gate towards the top of the table very early in the campaign, and haven’t looked back since, winning 10 out of their first 11 fixtures (31 points) through October. Performing to the best opening act the Serie A has ever seen, they’ve punched their way into the heavyweight class early on in proceedings.
Statistically speaking, Napoli’s start is unrivaled amongst those playing in Europe’s top five leagues. Certainly, it speaks volumes about how prolific the San Paolo outfit has been when you consider the fact that Manchester City, now the Italian’s kryptonite, have won their Premier League matches in more convincing fashion based off their margins.
Most would concede that Pep’s Manchester City play the most aesthetically pleasing brand of football of all. However, the Catalan strategist has shown nothing but admiration for the Neapolitans style of play, quoted as saying:
”Beating Napoli twice in two weeks is an incredible achievement. They are perhaps the best side I’ve faced in my career.”
Conversely, while Guardiola’s appreciation for Sarri’s Napoli is beautiful to see (a real recognizes real-type moment), the Partenopei succumbed to the English giants’ ruthless approach twice with two defeats (2-1 away, 4-2 home respectively). Not only that, unlike City who’ve already secured a Round of 16 birth with a dominant Group F showing, Napoli are currently facing the harsh reality of possibly missing out on the knockout stage as they trail Shakhtar Donetsk by six points for second.
Aside from the fact that Napoli must win out against the Ukrainian side and Feyenoord respectively in order to advance, they must also cope without the presence of their star fullback, Algerian international Faouzi Ghoulam.
The 26-year old left-back, who tore his right ACL in Wednesday’s defeat to City, has widely been considered one of Sarri’s best and most trusted men to date when taking into account his role in the starting XI, rate of consistency and overall quality he possesses – all of which he’s maintained up and down the left channel throughout the term.
Hours ago, Napoli released the following statement on Ghoulam:
”Faouzi Ghoulam was operated on this morning by Dr. Mariani at Villa Stuart in Rome for the reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The surgery went perfectly well. Ghoulam will not return to work with the group for at least 90 days.”
With Ghoulam on the shelf, Napoli will turn to Mario Rui for reinforcement, at least until the January transfer window opens when president Aurelio De Laurentiis can asses what the best course of action is. But, what is perhaps most important to look at in the aftermath of Ghoulam’s unfortunate injury, aside from the real danger of missing out of the UCL knockout phase, is the impact it could have on Napoli being overthrown in the race for Serie A supremacy.
Sarri’s tactics centered around quick and fluent transitioning from attacking to defending, high pressing up the pitch and choreography-like movement aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, Ghoulam’s spell on the sidelines means Rui must step in and ensure the Algerian’s assignments on the left are fulfilled. Still, with two important players in Arkadiusz Milik and Ghoulam out with the same injury, and the side’s depth diminishing, Sarri would be wise to prioritise bringing a Scudetto home to Napoli over anything else. This is where Sarri must put an even stronger emphasis on rotating players and ensuring the freshness of his players, especially with domestic cup play lurking.
While supporters aren’t exactly warm to the idea of bowing out of the Group Stage in such an underwhelming manner, it could be somewhat of a blessing in disguise. The last time Napoli tasted Serie A glory dates back to the 1989-90 season when the ever-brilliant Diego Maradona graced the San Paolo donning azzurro.
Napoli, as mentioned earlier, are off to the hottest start in league history, meaning there is no better time than now to put this uprising to perfect use, lift the coveted Serie A trophy and end rivals Juventus’ six-year reign as king – or queen – of Italy once and for all.