Are Napoli potential underdogs for the Serie A title?

Serie A is undoubtedly one of Europe’s top leagues, and looks set to become even more competitive this season.

Italy’s top clubs have had successful transfer windows, and have proven themselves capable of bringing in the right targets to strengthen their title hopes, whilst also preventing others clubs from luring away their big-name players.

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Juventus have brought in Federico Bernardeschi, the exciting winger, Blaise Matuidi, who will shore up the Old Lady’s midfield, and Benedikt Howedes more recently, perhaps to perform as Giorgio Chiellini’s defensive partner – after the shock transfer of Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan.

Bonucci’s switch to another one of Serie A’s giants has created shockwaves across the world of football, and has demonstrated that the biggest teams can lose their star names to rivals, regardless of the transfer fee.

AC Milan’s summer spending spree has been well documented, and has firmly secured their place among the favourites for the Serie A title this season.

However, another club has quietly gone about their business this summer, and also shouldn’t be discounted.

This club is Napoli, and under the careful stewardship of Maurizio Sarri, could be building themselves up for a title challenge this time around.

On paper, this season is certainly one of the hardest to predict, with the largest clubs spending lavishly on new talents and tying players down to lucrative contracts.

However, Napoli appear to have done the complete opposite during the off-season.

With only two new additions, and rumours of Pepe Reina’s departure, there is a reason why Napoli are certainly this season’s underdogs.

Sarri’s new acquisitions are lightning-fast winger Adam Ounas and Mario Rui, who is a left back.

Ounas has the ability to tear defences apart, but is only likely to be used as rotation option to allow Jose Callejon more time to rest and prepare for the biggest games of the season.

This means that the majority of Sarri’s team will be the same players fielded last campaign, and the ones who led Napoli to a third-place finish.

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This tactic of keeping things the same could prove to be a masterstroke, or damaging.

Going forward, Napoli have some of the most prolific and entertaining players, such as Marek Hamsik, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne.

This summer, there is sure to have been interest in this creative triumvirate, but Napoli have remained firm and kept all three players.

Next season, this could prove invaluable, as the continuity from last season could give Napoli the flying start to the season that they will need in order to challenge for the title this time around.

However, there are certainly areas of the squad that still need improving, as deadline day looms large.

The midfield depth for any club can be crucial in deciding a title winner, but with changes and injuries to be expected during a long and arduous Serie A season, Napoli will need to ensure that the likes of Marek Hamsik and Jorginho have adequate replacements.

Piotr Zielinski, once a Liverpool target, and Marko Rog are sure to see plenty of minutes, although neither offer real defensive stability.

And at the back, the likes of Christian Maggio, Vlad Chiriches and Lorenzo Tonelli all have severe question marks poised perilously above their heads.

This lack of real strength in depth could be a deciding element in whether Napoli achieve their goals, or endure a season of underwhelming performances.

Behind the defence currently stands Pepe Reina, the Spanish veteran who has lived a comfortable career between the sticks.

The unavoidable fact though is that Reina is aging, and will eventually need replacing.

Currently, Napoli have no other viable alternatives ready to step in for the Spaniard and play a whole season consistently.

These are all problems that Sarri may need to improve, although time is rapidly shortening.

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However, Napoli will also contest in the Champions League this season.

Competing regularly in Europe’s most contested competition will bring many positives to Napoli, including the financial bonuses and the opportunity to make a real mark on the European stage.

The added amount of games coupled with the expected tricky away ties in foreign countries will demand every ounce of ability and strength from Sarri’s squad, which will inevitably lead to injuries and setbacks during the domestic campaigns.

Balancing Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia matches will prove crucial for a title challenge next season, and any partenopei silverware will obviously be welcomed with open arms.

Sarri’s main objective is certain to be a domestic challenge, and the round of 16 of the Champions League, similar to what his team achieved last season.

With a talented squad at Sarri’s disposal, and players able to come into the team and perform, Napoli are certainly underdogs for the Serie A title.

A positive finish last season, coupled with the time needed for AC Milan’s new array of stars to settle in, and wobbly performances from Juventus in their pre-season, means that Napoli could prove everybody wrong this season, and finally go on to achieve real glory.

The Author

Dan Davis

A second year journalism student at Bournemouth University. I'm the sports editor for the university magazine and also a freelance sports journalist, writing for the likes of Back Page Football and Outside of the Boot.

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