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Napoli: Roma’s True Rival

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Buoyed by some new signings, Napoli looks poised to threaten the top of table again, despite losing Gonzalo Higuain.

SSC Napoli v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

S.S.C. Napoli, Roma’s annual foe for the hearts and minds of Southern Italy, are in many ways the model Serie A franchise, Juve notwithstanding of course. In the decade or so since their bankruptcy, reorganization and rebirth into the top flight, Napoli has remained a consistent contender through superior scouting, shrewd sales and even shrewder purchases.

Consider the following: After selling Edinson Cavani, Napoli was able to acquire Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon and even Dries Mertens. With the money they then earned from Higuain, they were able to land Arkadiusz Milik, Amadou Diawara, Piotr Zielinksi, Lorenzo Tonelli and Nikola Maksimovic among others.

Such a lucrative domino effect insures that Napoli is able to load and reload seemingly without end and is the prime reason why they’re among Italy’s best teams, despite not pulling in as much revenue or spending as much on salaries as their more well known competitors. In fact, Napoli only spent roughly €80 million on transfers this summer...their entire campaign was funded by one sale. Let that sink in.

So without further ado, let’s take a quick look at Napoli.

Napoli

Last Season: 2nd place, 82 points, +48 goal differential

Key Additions: Arkadiusz Milik, Amadou Diawara, Piotr Zielinksi, Lorenzo Tonelli, Nikola Maksimovic

Key Losses: Gonzalo Higuain, Mirko Valdifiori

Synopsis

Under new manager Maurizio Sarri last season, Napoli edged out Roma for an automatic berth into the Champions League by two measly little points, and in doing so, secured a top five finish for the sixth consecutive season.

We sort of touched on it during the introduction, but Napoli seemingly have this managing-a-football-team-in-the-21st-century thing down pat: scout young talent, sign emerging stars from smaller clubs, flip them for substantial profits to clubs larger than yourself, lather, rinse, repeat.

Starting with Cavani, Napoli has been able to constantly stock, sell, and replenish their roster with top talent with little to no impact on continuity or results. They are in many ways a model for Roma.

Style of Play

Through two matches, Sarri has relied on a 4-3-3 formation headed by Callejon, Milik and Mertens, and so far it has borne plenty of fruit, resulting in six goals through two matches. If last season was any indication, Sarri will rely almost exclusively on this formation.

Ah yes, about last season. To call Napoli dependent on Higuain would be a gross understatement. Higuain’s record breaking 36 goal campaign represented nearly 50% of Napoli’s domestic output last season, nearly double Juventus’ reliance on Paulo Dybala, so how they’ll manage his absence is certainly a storyline to follow this season.

Napoli’s defense was also rather stout last season, conceding only 32 goals, the league’s second best mark. Retaining Kalidou Koulibaly and adding Maksimovic to that mix can only stand to strengthen Napoli’s resolve.

Biggest Threat

Their frontline. While we just talked about coping with Higuain’s absence as a question mark, thus far they’ve done quite well. Through two matches each of Milik, Mertens and Callejon has two goals, suggesting there was more to their magic last season other than Higuain. Callejon in particular has always been a thorn in Roma’s side.

Biggest Question Mark

Away matches. While no one was ever going to track down the Old Lady last season, if you want to find one spot of bother for Napoli, it was their record away from the San Paolo, where they managed only 31 points. And sure, this was the league’s third best mark, but when we’re talking about championship or at least Champions League qualification margins, look no further; it’s so often the little things that control our fates.

Scudetto Threat Factor: 2/10

Juve are the odds on favorites, but Napoli is pretty well stocked all over the pitch, so we’ll give them a 20% chance.

Roma Threat Factor: 10/10

Hey, they did it last year, right? Sure, if management had canned Rudi Garcia earlier, maybe Roma finishes a few points above Napoli, but they did just enough to catch up with and keep Roma at bay last season. Make no mistake, they are Roma’s true rival this season.