How Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli can dethrone Juventus next season
Napoli were within sight of the Promised Land, yet couldn’t step foot inside. The Partenopei had never been so close in nearly three decades. Juventus’ six-year hegemony was seriously threatened. In the end, however, the Scudetto remained in the North. Gli Azzurri will have to try again next season. This time, Carlo Ancelotti will be at the helm.
The die was cast. Napoli unbelievable 1-0 victory in Turin seemingly carved open the Serie A title race. The party had begun in Campania as if to say the Scudetto was already in the bag. Although they trailed the Old Lady by a point with four games to go, Napoli's faithful were certain of making history.
They were right to dream. Their darling team had just returned from the Allianz Stadium with maximum points for the first time in seven trips. Undefeated in 29 travels before that, Gli Azzurri were brimming with confidence. Maurizio Sarri’s attractive, possession-based, short passing style earned admirers across Europe.
Juve had a much more difficult run-in. Inter Milan and AS Roma, both Champions League hopefuls, were difficult adversaries. Points could be dropped. Napoli, meanwhile, were afforded weaker company. Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Torino, Crotone. Twelve points seemed eminently possible.
Instead, matters took the reverse twist. Sarri's team bottled it in Florence while the Old Lady soared in Milan. Napoli was mercilessly beaten 3-0. Juve showed steel and character to dismiss Inter 3-2. At that point, the entire South conceded defeat. There was no way the serial winners was going to give in. Not when they were four points to the good.
It was a disappointing end to a promising campaign. One which accrued 91 points, most in club history. With 17 clean sheets, Sarri's men flaunted the most impenetrable back-four in Serie A. In the final third, they were equally ruthless. Only Juve bettered their 77 strikes.
The eyebrow cometh
Napoli’s scalp at Fiorentina pretty much summed up their season and Sarri's entire time in Campania. So much promise ultimately yielded nothing. The football was attractive, enchanting sometimes. But it was also profligate. The Neapolitans were simply too soft, lacking the usual resilience and ruthlessness associated with champions. A much more solid side would have knocked the reigning champions from the race as early as December.
Nonetheless, Napoli can build on last season's successes. Appointing Ancelotti as Sarri's successor is a good way to start. The ex-Bayern Munich manager represents something of an upgrade. Unlike Sarri who has failed to match elegance with accolades, Ancelotti is a born winner; as player and coach.
In the 58-year-old, Napoli now parades a manager of equal pedigree, expertise and exposure as Allegri. Not the mismatched Sarri. 'Quiet leadership: Winning hearts, minds and matches', is the title of Ancelotti’s vaunted book on how to get the best from people. Little wonder his ability to change tactics and systems according to the needs and skill-sets of the players available. The Partenopei will benefit from his teaching.
Holding onto your own
That said, the 58-year-old's technical expertise won't be sufficient to depose Juve on its own. Retaining the spine of the squad is of greater significance. As expected, the continent’s top dogs have begun the chase for the club’s shining stars. Jorginho, for instance, is reportedly being courted by Manchester City. So is Kalidou Koulibaly. Veterans Pepe Reina and Marek Hamsik are considering their futures as well.
Even if none depart, Napoli must still reinforce in the market. Sarri’s lack of depth was brutally exposed during the second stanza. The 59-year-old was over-reliant on Dries Mertens for goals. When the Belgian's form dried up, the entire team suffered.
A couple of additions, particularly in midfield and attack would provide the new boss with more options in the quest to dethrone the Turin tyrants. Any help would be appreciated.