By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
It was hard not to think of them as gatecrashers. Napoli had just held Inter to a 1-1 draw when they took a lap of honour around the San Paolo in May to celebrate their qualification for the Champions League. For the first time in 21 years, the Naples outfit were going to be representing Italy in Europe’s major club tournament.
But few held out much hope for them putting up much of a show, and fewer still thought they’d be able to do that while maintaining any hope of progressing still further in the league after last season’s leap to third place. However, the early signs suggest Napoli could pull up some trees, both at home and abroad. And if they do so, it will be achieved with a style of play many ignorantly believe Italian clubs to be incapable of playing.
|NAPOLI's SEASON SO FAR
Man City (a)
AC Milan (h)
Walter Mazzarri’s troops may have dropped points in both of their last two league games, but they currently lie just a point behind leaders Juventus. Meanwhile, they sit three points ahead of Manchester City in the great race for second spot and qualification to the knockout stages from Group A of the Champions League – the one considered to be this term’s mandatory ‘Group of Death’.
Tuesday’s victory over Villarreal – achieved thanks to an excellent fast start which culminated in a quick-fire double – has confirmed them as a side capable of either counter-attacking the life out of an opposition or breaking down lengthy resistance.
In either approach, they are able to stretch opponents, which works a treat in Serie A in particular. The league is heavily populated by teams who set up with narrow midfields and an attacking trequartista in behind the forwards, allowing sides with width and pace to take them out of their comfort zone. It is no surprise that Juventus and Udinese have started the season well playing in such a style, and Napoli are proving they have the ability to do it outside of Italy too.
And then there is the defence. Individually suspect players such as Hugo Campagnaro, Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica have somehow come to form one of Serie A’s safest units, with only four goals conceded in six games this term. Credit needs to be given to the protection given by the magnificent Walter Gargano and new signing Gokhan Inler, but the very fact that the Swiss has fitted in so effortlessly says much for the ethic of the team as a whole being the driving force behind Mazzarri’s outfit.
With Morgan De Sanctis having kicked on a level in his bid to challenge the order and stake a claim for the Italy No.1 jersey, and the wing-backs – Christian Maggio, Juan Zuniga and Andrea Dossena have proven that three into two does go – scaring the life out of the opposition, there is clear evidence that there is more to Napoli than just their front three.
|"The signs suggest Napoli could pull up some trees, both at home and abroad, and it will be achieved with a style of play many ignorantly believe Italian clubs to be incapable of playing."
It is all in marked contrast to the current situation at Inter, where – despite the immediate boost of Claudio Ranieri’s arrival – the team unit is not a harmonious one on the pitch. And tomorrow night, if Napoli can play their usual game and stretch the Nerazzurri, then there is every reason to believe they can succeed in taking three more points in their bid to rightly take on the moniker as Italy’s fourth big club.
They may well be without Edinson Cavani tomorrow night, but it is not only he, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi who make Napoli the team they are. Now they have another chance to prove it to Italy. As for Europe … they’re on the way to showing them too.
After two decades, Napoli are heading back towards the top, and they’re doing it in style.Follow Kris Voakes on