If it was not clear enough before Thursday evening's 3-0 defeat to PSV that Napoli's primary focus this season is Serie A, it became crystal post-match.
“I would say that this defeat can be the consequences of our choices, of the choices of the club,” Coach Walter Mazzarri revealed afterwards. “Otherwise you lose – like we did last year – around 10 points in the League by always playing the same and then turning up to these games with this sort of team.
“You cannot have a squad with 22 champions, we must give space to young players, and naturally these results will happen. The club has decided to play young players in the Europa League so that they are ready for the future.”
Although UEFA co-efficient watchers will be less than impressed by the stance taken by Napoli, it is an easy decision to understand. Last year Mazzarri initially tried to rotate his squad in Serie A in order to cope with the Champions League, but found out very early on he did not have the depth to keep winning points domestically.
It led to what he described above – the same group of players being used week in, week out, and in Europe. Of course, it is impossible to achieve objectives in both competitions using such a small group. The Champions League campaign can be considered a success, but their Serie A finish was a little disappointing.
That should be rectified this season with all the focus being concentrated on the one competition and it would be a surprise, given both their start and the strength of the competition, if they fail to make the Champions League places this time around.
It still does not address the issue of depth. It has been one of Napoli's Achilles heels for a while now and they have had two summers to address it. You can get away with a small group if the efforts are directed at one competition – as Juventus demonstrated last year – but the genuinely big teams are able to manage both.
Improving the depth is the biggest, and hardest leap for sides like Napoli, but it is what is needed to cement their status as one of the perennial challengers in Italian football once again and avoid falling into the boom and bust-esque cycle, albeit with a less dramatic bust, of Champions League, no Champions League.
The hard facts are that Napoli do not have the money to improve this aspect overnight, and nor are they willing to spend it, such is the impressive nature in which the club is run. They have tried to spend – Gokhan Inler, Edinson Cavani, Miguel Britos and Eduardo Vargas were not cheap – but it is difficult for the club to continue signing players of this quality at those prices, particularly the former two.
It means many of the current squad, outside of the core group Mazzarri will rely on to challenge Juventus, are players of debatable quality signed for small fees that struggle to keep Napoli competitive on two fronts.
So this represents a small change in policy. Instead of relying on the likes of Giandomenico Mesto and Marco Donadel to try to maintain competitiveness, they will happily ignore the Europa League to give young guys like Lorenzo Insigne and Omar El Kaddouri a chance to grow into players who can give Napoli genuine top level depth in the future.
As with all youngsters there is always a gamble. But the pay-off for the Partenopei could be huge if it works out.
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