With 13 games remaining, Napoli are now at the stage where their challenge for a first Serie A title since the days of Diego Maradona in 1990 can no longer be easily dismissed.
They trailed leaders Milan by three points at the holiday break and the gap remains the same going into this weekend’s Serie A schedule.
The squad appears to lack depth but a 2-0 win away to Roma last week was Napoli’s latest declaration of intent. A look at the statistics shows that Coach Walter Mazzarri has relied on a select group of players and has been reluctant to the rotate.
Here are the core group and their number of starts in brackets.
De Sanctis (25), Campagnaro (21), Cannavaro (20), Maggio (21), Gargano (22), Pazienza (19), Dossena (21), Hamsik (24), Cavani (22), and Lavezzi (21).
The front three of Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi get most of the column inches. Edinson Cavani got both goals last weekend and now has 20 in 25 Serie A matches – not bad for a player whose previous goals scoring high was 14 goals in the 2008/09 season for Palermo.
Cavani is now only two goals short of matching the club record for league goals in a season set nearly eight decades ago.
Hamsik and Lavezzi sit behind the advanced Cavani but the Uruguayan’s intelligent movement creates space in the penalty area particularly for Hamsik who excels at well timed runs from deep positions.
Lavezzi’s scoring is not up there with the other two but he attracts defenders like moths to a flame and he has the ability to deliver a killer ball from almost any position.
“Wing backs” Andrea Dosenna (former Liverpool) and Christian Maggio are perhaps the two unsung heroes of the Napoli set up. With only three in defence, one of them is always expected to drop back when Napoli is under pressure while they are also expected to get forward and to deliver crosses into the penalty box.
Walter Gargano and Michele Pazienza are the dogs of war in central midfield although Gargano is a better passer than he is often given credit for. With a three man defence the cover offered by the partnership has been key to the team’s success this season.
At the back it is Hugo Campagnaro (signed in 2009 from Sampdoria), and Paolo Cannavaro the mainstays with either Salvatore Aronica or Gianluca Grava competing for the remaining spot.
Former Udinese keeper Morgan De Sanctis has proven to be an important part of the puzzle. De Sanctis left for Sevilla in 2007 but was unable to hold down a regular starting spot. He moved to Turkey on loan but returned to Italy in 2009
Defensively Napoli have also been incredibly strong with six consecutive clean sheets at home and they have recorded 9 shut outs in their last 11 matches. The last team to score at the Stadio San Paolo was Bologna on November 21.
When you consider that Sunday’s visitors Catania have only scored 7 away goals this season and have been shut out in 6 of their 12 away games the chances are good that Napoli’s impressive home streak will continue past this upcoming match.
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