[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter the summer exit of Rafa Benítez, it remained to be seen just what type of season Napoli would have with the modest appointment of Maurizio Sarri – and the jury is still out to some degree.
Six games into the new Serie A campaign and the Stadio San Paolo outfit sit in ninth place with nine points, with an inconsistency blighting the team and the supporters not really knowing what to expect from their side on a week-to-week basis.
However, the signs are there that the Naples outfit are set to rise up the table, with a formation change at the Italian club making the most of the considerable assets at Sarri’s disposal in midfield and in attack.
Benítez had been a firm believer in the 4-2-3-1 system that had his side as potential Scudetto challengers and consistent Champions League qualifiers up until last season.
With the Spaniard’s departure, Sarri had initially looked to play two up front, but the team’s early season form was not what was expected from a team with so much quality.
The new Napoli boss made the decision to move from a 4-3-1-2 to a bespoke 4-3-3 for the European clash against Club Brugge earlier this month – with the switch reaping dividends.
The decision has relegated striker Marco Gabbiadini to the bench, with Gonzalo Higuaín leading the line in solitude and clearly flourishing from the service offered by Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejón from the flanks.
Napoli’s destroyed Brugge 5-0 at San Paolo and annihilated Lazio by the same scoreline a mere three days later at the same venue.
A 0-0 draw away to Carpi was followed by a 2-1 victory over Juventus at the weekend, with the last couple of weeks showing that the Naples-based outfit looks ready to ascend up the table and challenge.
Against Juventus, the benefits of Sarri’s tactical switch were clear to see.
Insigne scored the first goal before leaving the encounter injured, with his combination with progressive Algerian full-back Faouzi Ghoulam the most dangerous aspect to the hosts’ forward play.
In the centre of midfield, the three-man Napoli unit completely outran and outplayed their Bianconeri equivalents, highlighting Juve’s weakness but also their strength.
Marek Hamšík, once a scintillating attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, has been dropped deeper to play in the engine room and looked rejuvenated.
Alongside very impressive summer signing Allan and Jorginho, Napoli dictated the pace of the game and were effective at both ends of the pitch.
The extent of Insigne’s injury is yet to be fully determined, but the diminutive schemer is an essential member of the Partenopei’s side – and finally looks set to deliver consistently.
The question of where to play the versatile attacker has been a pertinent one for some time, but fielding him on the left where he can link-up with fellow attackers and drift in-field at will seems to be an excellent option.
Higuaín, who was omitted from the Argentine national squad recently in favour of rising star Paulo Dybala, is clearly trying to prove a point.
The former Real Madrid man has five goals to his name so far in Serie A, including the superb individual winner against the champions on Saturday.
Sarri comes from a modest background having moved to San Paolo from Empoli, but there should be belief that Napoli in their current mood can thrive under the 56-year-old.
Juventus’ early season capitulation has thrown the title race wide open and given the rest of Italian football a glorious chance to end the Turin giants’ recent supremacy.
Napoli may still be some way off top spot, but with things starting to click into gear don’t be surprised to see Sarri’s men move ominously towards the top six as the season progresses.
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