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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


Napoli Turning Some Skeptics Into Believers

Written by on February 18, 2011 | 16 Comments »
Posted in Napoli

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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16 responses to “Napoli Turning Some Skeptics Into Believers”


    do you think they will have to make the tittle run this year because Cavani,Hamsik, and or Lavezzi could be gone next year?Is Napoli set up to keep the trio or will they have to sell?i think they have a better then 50 /50 chance to pass Milan.

  2. Soccerlogical says:

    I can’t see a squad like Napoli without any creative depth competing for Europa League and Scudetto simultaneously.

  3. GFYR

    You make a good point. As soon as teams start punching above their weight they attract attention and their players become desirable.

    I think one thing going for Napoli is they have a tremendous upside in terms of fan support and maybe in a position to hold on to their players.

    But there again if the bid is big enough ……

    My personal favourite is Lavezzi. He certainly has his weaknesses but I just love watching him play.

  4. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    Don’t worry about Napoli in the Europa League after next week. Villarreal and Rossi will take care of them at El Madrigal and may even give them a ‘munita’. Napoli can then focus on domestic matters. I can’t see them finishing above either of the Milan teams at the end of the year. Also, Milan will be able to focus on strictly domestic matters after their trip to White Hart Lane.

  5. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Sorry for the aside but I have to get this off my chest. It does involve something Italian though so it is almost on topic. It has to with an Italian manager for the English national side.

    If there is something for him and everyone to learn over these last two days of UCL competition it is this. Speed kills. Speed kills on the wings and on the counter attacks. Witness the Spuds’ goal courtesy of one little speedster named Lennon who is not a Beatle. The Italian manager does not use Lennon at the WC. There’s another speedy RW that wasn’t even selected for the squad (Walcott). Capello has since admitted that that was a mistake. Now I know that they are both RWs but why not use both on the wings at the same time. Sure, one has to change sides. But they are professional players and one can learn to cut in to the middle on to their non-chocolate leg. Remember, speed kills. Using both Lennon and Walcott simultaneously is thinking outside the box but not even starting one of them is criminal. And what does Capello do? He plays Milner. Also, he selects Heskey as a starter and plays Barry. Heskey was well past it at that level for quite a while. And Barry … well, I know he is a holding MF but not a very good one. Just ask Ozil who made him look like the pylon that he is. If Barry was injured, as some claims say, then why is he playing in the first place? Now Capello wants to play Wilshere as a holding MF? Are you kidding me? Wilshere may be listed as a holding MF for Arsenal but he is a real box to box creative MF for AFC. Putting the shackles on Jack the Lad and trying to turn him into an English Makelele is utterly misguided at best. The good news, at least, is that Barry won’t play. Capello also knows how to pick his keepers too eh? Personally, I don’t know how he kept his job after the WC. He was a good manager once. He ain’t no more and is footy senile quite frankly. Hell, I could write a whole article on this topic but will leave it at that. For now.


    I agree next week is going to be tough in Spain.I thought they would have been more attacking at home.I know they have a depth problem but i think they might just get the league. just a feeling so yes i am going on the record Napoli wins Serie A.

    how surprised were you that Valencia was held at home?I thought they would have scored 2 or 3.

    Big weekend for Forest fans 6 pointer vs the blue birds game at City Ground.

    AFC don’t look past Leyton if you want to win the 4 cups(ha ha )

  7. Soccerlogical says:

    TVN – You mean Villareal will take care of Napoli like they did levante 2 weeks ago? Lavezzi will be well rested as he is suspended in the league for 3 matches and Hamsek will most probably start the 2nd leg. Additionally, Rossi has a niggle so don’t be so sure that Napoli are done and dusted.

    * If you can explain to me the logic behind the FA hiring an arrogant fool like McClaren then I will explain to you the logic behind hiring Capello and keeping him for The Euros.

  8. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    I’ll bet you even money Napoli don’t end up above either Milan side (your pick).

    Quite surprised that Valencia didn’t win and now Schalke have to be slight favourites to advance. But I’m not giving up on the Spanish boys.

    Every year we get some team talking about a quad. It’s just plain stupid. No need to talk about a treble until mid May for anybody. Even a Barça. I’ve just stopped listening to anyone talking about such talk (much like transfer rumours … they are mostly a load of hot air).

  9. The comparison of Wilshere and Makelele and talk of Wilshere playing the “Makelele” role is absolutely preposterous.

    I have never understood why Makelele wasn’t just called what he was which was a 5th defender. He needed GPS to find his way to the opposition’s half.

    Wilshere has the talent to be a real player not one who can only do a couple of things no matter how well.

    Don’t be surprised that at some point in the next 12 months you see Wenger pushing Wilshere further forward and forcing him into a more attacking role. He allowed Fabregas to play deeper early in his career and then pushed him further upfield.

    He forced Nasri to play deep late in the season a couple of years ago and that has helped his defensive skills – you saw him move into Song’s position on Wednesday.

  10. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    And Lavezzi will be well rested for any European competition until next year after this match. The Spanish sides seem to like this competition very much no matter what they call it. Expect the Yellow Submarine to torpedo the Neopolitans. I love it when the Spanish masters discipline Italian opposition. Write it down if you must. You heard it here first.

    As for McLaren, that I cannot answer. But there are some other things the FA do that I cannot understand either. SL, can you tell me why the FA makes Arsenal play 2 games in 48 hours? They’ve done that to AFC twice this year. If you can, then you can have a double Lagavulin on me.

  11. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Agreed about Wilshere. If Cesc goes in the summer or next then Wilshere could play the Cesc role and either Ramsey or Diaby could play Wilshere’s present role. The one thing I am worried about with Wilshere is his allergy to shooting. He’ll have to improve on that if he is to play the Cesc role in the future. Otherwise, Nasri will play the Cesc role upon a Cesc departure and Arshavin plays in Nasri’s old spot. Currently, Jack has the legs to play as a true box to box creative MF and get advanced within his present role (if Song stays put as the sole holding MF). I see Wilshere more as potential future English Xavi (or younger Scholes) than as a more advanced up the park MF that Cesc presently is. Now that he’s got Xavi’s jersey, why not?

  12. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Getting Song off for Arshavin was a brilliant and necessary move on Wednesday. They were down 0-1 at the time and Song was on a yellow. The circumstances dictated the more offensive posture. I’ll have to watch it again, but I don’t recall Nasri dropping as deeply as Song (until the score became 2-1 maybe). Remember, it was Nasri making the run down the right and setting up the little Russian’s goal. Anyhow, things were reallocated no doubt.

  13. As son as Song went off Nasri moves in beside Wilshere. I believe the reason Nasri led the break was because Bendtner was back defending and Nasri was left upfield as the speedy option.

  14. Let me correct that last piece. I just watched it again and although Bendtner was back defending and was involved at the start of the move Nasri was not upfield as the speedy option. He started about 30 yards from the Arsenal goal and then took off to become the speedy option. It is an even better goal than I thought at the time.

  15. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Looking at the second half again last night it looks like you were pretty much right. Song comes off, Arshavin to LW, Nasri to Song’s spot (but with more freedom due to the scoreline). Bendtner comes on for Walcott later. I imagine Bendtner came back to cover a run (likely made by Maxwell) and Nasri saw the open space and made the over lapping run. That second goal was a thing of beauty. Another example of the speed and precision of an Arsenal counter attack of one and two touch passing (much like their second goal against Wolves recently). Koscielny, Bendtner, Wilshere, Cesc, Nasri, Russian, onion bag, I believe is how it went. And all off a slight miss pass from Messi to Iniesta (I believe) who would have been all alone if Koscielny didn’t pick it off. A key moment in the game. What could very well have been 1-2 turns into 2-1.

  16. Talorcan says:

    Good luck to Napoli this week in Spain.
    Unfortunately they don’t look to fair well Sunday at San Siro.
    Milan are regaining injured players and Lavezzi will be sorely missed by Napoli.
    It has been a pleasure to watch them this season so far.

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