After Higuain departure, an encouraging start for Napoli

Our objective is to step on the gas in the first minute and take the foot off at the final whistle

– coach Maurizio Sarri’s oversimplified description of how he sets his Napoli side out to play; but there’s more to it than that, much more.

And yet it does encapsulate much of what makes the Partenopei one of the best teams to watch not just in Italy, but in Europe.


Sarri’s side play thoughtful, possession-based, attacking, high-risk football – football that saw them become champions Juve’s main challengers last season and is likely to see them put it up to the Bianconeri again this term.

In fact, so impressed was former Inter Milan star Beppe Bergomi after watching Napoli beat Bologna last Sunday week that he suggested they might wrestle Serie A away from Turin for the first time in five years.

But Sarri, who has risen from the lower reaches of the Italian game to become one of the most talked about coaches in the game, is nobody’s fool and has called for some realism.

The economic difference with Juventus is so vast, not just for us but every Italian competitor, that they’ll have the kind of campaign that Bayern Munich have in Germany, PSG in France and Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. Unfortunately, this will be the reality unless Juventus do something ridiculous and they tend not to do ridiculous things.

Sarri and Napoli know Juve’s power not just on the pitch but off it too – and only too well. Losing Gonzalo Higuain to the champions over the summer was a bitter blow.

Not only did it underline the gulf in financial muscle, but the manner of his leaving also suggested that the Argentine striker didn’t feel he could win the biggest prizes at Napoli.

Napoli’s response has been to spend €60 odd million of the €90 million Higuain fee on young talent in the form of striker Arkadiuz Milik, defensive screen Amadou Diawara, box-to-box midfielder Piotr Zielinski and centre half Lorenzo Tonelli.

Critically, they also negotiated a new deal with Kalidou Koulibaly, the Senegalese ball-playing centre half so vital to how Napoli play the game.

Sarri, on the evidence of their first eight games across all competitions this season, has also stayed faithful to the system of play that has been so successful since his arrival – and that has earned him rave reviews.

The only obvious tweak has seen the coach play outside forwards Insigne and Callejon a little narrower and in closer support to Milik.

The Polish international has slotted in at centre forward very encouragingly, scoring six goals in his first six games. But the coach has been anxious to take pressure off the 22-year-old who was rested for Saturday night’s comfortable 2-0 win over Chievo – insisting that he cannot fill the Higuain-shaped hole alone and shouldn’t be expected too.

Instead, Sarri is looking to others in the side to chip in more regularly.


The early signs have been good, with the young Spaniard Jose Callejon rising to the challenge and scoring five times in Serie A already.

Napoli have started well both domestically and in Europe. They are the only unbeaten side in Serie A, and Saturday night’s victory was their fourth win in six league fixtures.

And their encouraging form has also seen them notch a fine win in the Champions League away to Dynamo Kiev.

But expecting Sarri’s coaching ability and the club’s new arrivals to be enough to unseat Juventus – in a season where Napoli will also have the added distraction of Champions League football – is probably to expect too much.

The more so in what looks like being an extremely competitive Serie A season with Inter Milan showing signs of life, Roma recovering after a disappointing failure to make the Champions League group stages and Juventus having recovered after displaying a little early season fallibility.

However, such has been Sarri’s impact, it’s not difficult to see why the likes of Bergomi and more think he and Napoli can do it.

Either way, it’ll be worth watching the Partenopei this season as at the very least, they will keep you entertained.

The Author

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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