9th August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
It's been a quiet summer for Napoli. While those around them in the Serie A landscape have undergone major upheavals, the Partenopei have largely stood still, and that could prove to be their best move.
AC Milan, following the completion of a takeover by new Chinese owners, have spent an eye-watering amount of money to tool up coach Vincenzo Montella ahead of the new season, with the express aim being a return to something approaching their former glories as soon as possible.
Champions Juventus have lost star defender Leonardo Bonucci to Milan, no less while spending big to boost Massimiliano Allegri's attacking options with the additions of Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa, with Mattia De Sciglio arriving from the Rossoneri to fill the Dani Alves-shaped void at J Stadium.
Roma, last season's runners-up in the race for the Scudetto, have been active in the transfer market too, as new sporting director, Monchi, looks to impress his unique, value-sensing stamp on the squad. Out have gone Mohamed Salah and Antonio RÃ¼diger, moving to the Premier League with Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, and midfielder Leandro Paredes has signed for Zenit Saint Petersburg. In their stead come Rick Karsdorp, HÃ©ctor Moreno, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Cenzig Ãœnder and Maxime Gonalons among others.
Inter Milan, Sampdoria and Lazio have done some reshuffling of their own, but Napoli, content with their lot, have made just one major addition. Adam Ounas, signed from Bordeaux for around €10million and already greatly impressing in his new surroundings, looks to be an astute purchase for the San Paolo club and one which won't upset the natural balance that coach Maurizio Sarri has dedicated the last two years to cultivating.
Ounas is a 20-year-old French winger who has bags of potential Â a sound investment in the future for Napoli but he will ultimately act as deputy to Lorenzo Insigne and JosÃ© CallejÃ³n in the wide roles this season; a position which Dries Mertens will attest can be, with the right amount of luck and opportunity, a gateway to first-team stardom.
Napoli's relative lack of business could be packaged as inertia, an inability to act when those around them are scrambling to strengthen. However, it is more a sign of Sarri's confidence in the players already at his disposal. Technically speaking, Nikola Maksimovi? goes on the books as a new, €20million signing this summer, but this is by virtue of the obligation to buy, which formed part of the loan agreement which took him to Naples from Torino a year ago, kicking in. Used sparingly last term, the cultured centre-back has been slowly integrated into the former Empoli manager's system and will already feel at home at the San Paolo.
Despite finishing third in 2016/17, behind Roma and six-in-a-row champions Juve, Napoli, after overcoming an inconsistent start to the season, were regarded by many as the best team in Italy over the final two thirds of the campaign. Having lost three of their opening 10 fixtures last term, Sarri's men lost just once more in Serie A; had the campaign been extended by 10 or so games, the Partenopei might have been celebrating a first league title since their Diego Maradona-inspired 1989/90 triumph.
But Napoli needn't seek consolation in hypotheticals and could've-beens: they have every chance of ending their Scudetto drought this season. Juventus, despite reaching the Champions League final and securing a domestic double last term, seem less assured in their position atop the Serie A food chain than in previous years, while Roma's summer of change will require a period of adjustment. Not since the days of Maradona have Napoli looked more like champions in waiting.
Since taking over from Rafa BenÃtez in the summer of 2015, Sarri has set about steadily closing the gap between Napoli and Juventus -- from 24 points in the now-Newcastle United manager's final season at the helm, to nine points in 2015/16, right down to five points last season. And he's done so in some style, espousing perhaps the most regularly entraining football in Europe.
With an emphasis on positional play, a commitment to patiently building attacking moves from the back, and the ability to effortlessly dismantle opposition with exhilarating passing combinations, Sarri's Napoli share many of the characteristics which made Pep Guardiola's Barcelona side so revered during their peak.
Indeed, Napoli made more passes per game than any team in Serie A last season (680.9), 135 more than Juventus. They even averaged 60 passes per game more than Barcelona, with only Bayern Munich (709.1), who enjoy a unique position of dominance within the Bundesliga, boasting a greater average.
The beating heart of Sarri's pass masters is Brazil-born Italy international playmaker Jorginho. The 25-year-old, who was signed from Verona in 2014, averaged an incredible 110 passes per 90 minutes last term, more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues. Sitting at the base of the Partenopei midfield, the two-cap Azzurri star's metronomic pace-setting provides a foundation for the likes of Insigne, Mertens and CallejÃ³n further forward.
By resisting the temptation to go big in the transfer market this summer, Napoli have stayed true to the players who have brought them within touching distance of Juventus. Captain Marek HamÂšik is moving into his 11th season with the club and is arguably Serie A's most consistently impressive midfielder; keeping one-time Chelsea target Kalidou Koulibaly means Sarri's defence will remain well marshalled; and Mertens, last season's unlikely top scorer, has penned a new deal -- he'll be vying for a starting berth with Arkadiusz Milik, whose first season at the San Paolo was scuppered by injury.
In an era of obscene transfer fees, when money is seen as the only solution to any problem, Napoli are hoping to prove that patience and preparation are still worthy virtues.
Napoli Resist the Urge to Splurge During the 2017 Summer Transfer Period
9th August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.