Napoli Season Preview: Can Napoli launch a title challenge?  
(Getty Images/SSC Napoli)

Napoli Season Preview: Can Napoli launch a title challenge?  

Can Napoli get closer to Juventus in the race for the Scudetto? 

Vijay Rahaman

Following years of being the "nearly men", the Partenopei will be looking to cross the final threshold into adding to their trophy cabinet, to complement their years of entertainment on the pitch.

Last season, Napoli entered the new campaign with questions surrounding the club. Fan favourite manager Maurizio Sarri left to go to Chelsea after a falling out with club president Aurelio de Laurentiis and he took midfield anchorman Jorginho with him. He was replaced by the already legendary figure of Carlo Ancelotti, who tinkered, rather than completely changed the script at the San Paolo.

The season started off well enough, both in the league & in Europe, but petted out in the end. While not being able to maintain a serious Scudetto challenge would have been a bitter pill to swallow and has a tinge of regret at not going further in the Coppa Italia, the biggest disappointment came on the continent. 

Despite some fantastic performances in the UEFA Champions League, they failed to qualify out of their group because of goal difference. They created many chances in all of the fixtures, but an inability to convert, hurt them dearly and they finished third. Subsequently, they dropped down to the UEFA Europa League and it was more of the same as they were knocked out by Arsenal in the last eight, without even registering a goal in either game of the two-legged tie.

Transfer Business Overview

It has been a mixed bag so far for the two-time Scudetto winners, as while they have added some good pieces to their squad, they are still searching for a  star signing or two to take them forward.

They needed to add a solid central defender, not only for depth but as Raul Albiol left the club after five campaigns of fantastic service. The Spaniard went back to La Liga to join Villarreal and he was replaced by Kotas Manolas. The Greek was signed from Derby del Sud rivals Roma for €36 million, while also in the defence, right back Giovanni di Lorenzo came in from relegated Empoli

Quite intriguing, the 1989 UEFA Cup winners, confirmed the permanent signing of not one, not two, but three goalkeepers. Azzurrini number one Alex Meret is the undisputed number one, while Davide Ospina and Orestis Karnezis will battle to be his deputy. 

The club has been heavily linked with Colombian forward James Rodriguez all summer, several times with the transfer looking on the edge of being completed, but so far nothing concrete. In the last week or so, the Campanians have been reportedly in talks of swap deals, which would see them get Argentine striker Mauro Icardi from Inter

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti

"Carletto" was brought in to give the team that X factor to which may have been missing. While under Sarri, they were lauded for their fantastic free-flowing football, they did not win any trophies to bring that substance to their style. The 60-year old has won a plethora of silverware all over Europe, including three European Cups, and it is hoped that he would use all that experience and tactical nous to add to the club's trophy haul. 

Having been all over the continent, from Serie A to the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga, Ancelotti has used many different formations and styles. From the 4-3-1-2 & 4-3-2-1 at Milan to mostly the 4-3-3 outside of Italy, the man from Reggiolo has evolved as time has gone on. However, this is an important campaign for him, as he would want to show that he still "has it" to manage in a top league.

Player to Watch: Kostas Manolas

In an era solely lacking top quality defenders, Napoli did very well acquire the 28-year old centre back from Roma for just €36 million, especially as he was linked with a host of clubs around Europe. The Greek will form a central defensive partnership with Kalidou Koulibaly and will be hoping to provide the defensive cover for the club's attacking players to get the freedom to thrive.

Having spent five seasons at the Stadio Olimpico, he is now well versed in the Calcio fraternity and will be looking to transfer that to his new club, both at home and abroad. The Partenopei have had some lapses in concentration that has cost them goals, points & potential trophies and it is hoped that Manolas will be the piece that has been missing.

One for the future: Eljif Elmas 

The Macedonian has joined the club from Turkish club Fenerbahce for €16 million and at just 19-years of age, he has his career ahead of him. The Skopje born player operates in the middle in a few different positions, from in the centre, on the left or further upfield just behind the forwards. 

So far in his developing career, he has already scored 13 goals in 90 professional games, including a couple with his national team in a Euro 2020 qualifier in March of this year. Blessed with pace, dribbling & with an eye for a pass, the teenager will be an additional weapon to an already solid midfield.

Predicted Finish

Given that we are still a couple of weeks away from the closing of the transfer window, Napoli can be expected to make another move or two as they attempt to close the gap on Juventus. However, given it is so huge, it will take a massive effort for Gli Azzurri to overcome the Piedmont side.

Besides their pursuit to end a 30-year wait for a Serie A title, Napoli should be looking to improve in the cup competitions. In the European Cup, they first need to get out of the group and take it from there, while the Coppa Italia must be a realistic aim for the team and anything short of at least a semi-final berth will be seen as a failure.