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Saturday September 21 2013
Napoli are true contenders

After a perfect start in all competitions, Rafa Benitez's side look good early on to mount a title challenge, argues Frank Tigani.

Some understandably had doubts when Edinson Cavani was sold to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro warned “replacing him will not be easy.” Former Napoli player Antonio Careca, who played during the glory days of the late 80s and early 90s, believed “they should not have let him go. They will lose 70 per cent of their strength.” A month into the new season however, and Napoli arguably look stronger without him.

Three wins from three in Serie A and victory in their Champions League opener against Borussia Dortmund and it has been a perfect start to life post-Cavani. Speaking after his side’s win against the Germans, new boss Rafael Benitez was understandably delighted while trying to temper rising expectations. “Tonight against the European vice-champions I have to be satisfied and positive, but we have to control the enthusiasm of the fans, though we’ll enjoy it for tonight and then get back to work tomorrow.”

Cavani may have gone, but the goals have continued to flow. In their four games played so far Napoli have netted 11 times already. Marek Hamsik alone has scored four of those. New arrivals Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Maria Callejon – both hitting the ground running following their arrival from Real Madrid – have accounted for five. Local favourite Lorenzo Insigne has been repaying the faith Benitez has shown in him with some promising displays and, of course, with his superb winner against Dortmund.

In the past, Benitez’s sides have always been known for being rather defensive-minded, but this does not appear to be the case with Napoli. While the former Liverpool boss has introduced his favoured 4-2-3-1 system, he has not abandoned the entertaining football that characterised the Walter Mazzarri years and it is paying off. Napoli lead Serie A in goals scored, have the highest average possession and have recorded the most shots per game. It is all very ‘un-Benitez’ like, but there is a good reason for this.

If Napoli have a weakness, it is in defence. In recognising this, Benitez seems to have decided to play to the team’s strengths and it’s working rather well. There is more to come, as he has warned “I am sure in one or two months we will be even better.” No doubt. This is, after all, a side that experienced a number of changes in personnel over the summer, so the players and Coach are still getting to know each other. This makes their victory over Dortmund – a side that has been together for years – all the more remarkable.  

Yet at the same time it should not be all that surprising that Benitez has got his team performing at such a high level so early on his tenure. Indeed, many of his greatest successes have come early on during his reign. In his first season with Valencia back in 2001-02, he won La Liga. When he moved to Liverpool in 2004, he won the Champions League 10 months later. Even at Inter, where he was regarded as a failure and lasted only six months, he still managed to collect two titles – the Italian Super Cup and the World Club Cup. It was the same story last season at Chelsea. He was only there for eight months, but he left with a Europa League crown to his name.

Benitez has won titles at every one of his last four clubs, though many of them have come in his first season in charge. His past successes are the reason why Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis hailed his arrival as “the best signing of the summer.” The hope is that he can continue delivering titles and the early signs are certainly encouraging.

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Have your say...
NAPOLI IS NOT WINING SERIE A
on the 25th September, 2013 at 5:10am
And you truly tink and believe higuain is beta than Tevez? Get over it.not in this life or the next.
on the 24th September, 2013 at 2:17am
@Sorvax

Let's be honest here, up until a few weeks ago Roma fans were ready to bring down everyone from the new owners to the coach all the way down individual players. Winning a few games in a row and the local derby does not make Roma a true contender for the title, i think the true test of Roma's title credentials will be between December and April, when most teams win or lose the title. However i can't deny the fact that this Roma is exciting and could finish in the top 5 spots.
on the 23rd September, 2013 at 11:47am
I find your descriptions of Benitez as defensive absurd, he has the highest goal scoring season in the entire illustrious Liverpool FC history and at Chelsea. He played forwards converted to wingers adding to the attacking threat, he has many, many documented high scoring games, 6 1 Man United, 4 0 Madrid 8 0 Benfica 4 4 Arsenal 3 3 Milan, the list goes on an on. Since when has balance an unity been defensive as appossed to all out attack.

Also on the accomplishments, you left out 2 promotions
on the 23rd September, 2013 at 12:24am
Funny how everyone thinks it's a two horse race. After our derby win don't count out Roma. Yes we have had a tough decade but look at us now and look how the club functions with the new owners and the new management. Were starting to be that real Roma again. You haven't heard the last of us.
on the 22nd September, 2013 at 10:27pm
@DioB: As much as I agree with you about Agnelli being an idiot, I think we should've gone for someone better than Higuain (so many names that 1 comment won't be enough).... We should've also concentrated on 1 fantasista (like Isco) because we've not had any creative genius in our system since Alex's departure.... Regarding Insigne, it'd be foolhardy to say he's even close to being in the same bracket as Alex / Francesco, because those guys were champions at 21.... Don't drum him up, please....
on the 22nd September, 2013 at 6:17am
The fight for the Scudetto is a clear two horse race between Juventus and Napoli. As a Juventus supporter I believe we will win a third consecutive title, but I respect Napoli's challenge, even if a hate pretty much everything about them. It will be a long hard battle, with many twists and turns, but all that matters is who is out in front after 38 games. Juventus will not give away their title without one hell of a fight, so Napoli have to truly believe they can beat us.
on the 22nd September, 2013 at 3:32am
Napoli can go far as long as that forward line stays healthy. Insigne, callejon, higuain and hamsik can cause teams headaches. All young and talented, I tip them to go far . I see them going farther than AC or juve in the CL. I wish insigne played for inter, I tip him to be one of the best Italian players
on the 22nd September, 2013 at 3:13am
As a Juve fan, I think that it will be a lot tougher to win the league this year. Agnelli should have made the Higuain transfer possible but well done to Napoli for taking advantage of Juve's strict balancing of the books.
RE. Insigne, I thought that he was going to be another Morfeo/Giovinco but he has now delivered sensational goals in 2 high profile games (1st Vs Argentina then Vs Borussia) - let us hope that his name can 1 day be put next to those of Baggio, Del Piero and Totti.
on the 21st September, 2013 at 6:38pm
Goes without saying. Juve and Napoli are well ahead of the rest this season who will be scrapping over third.
on the 21st September, 2013 at 5:12pm
Forza Milan!!! Balo take the lead
on the 21st September, 2013 at 4:01pm
Yes, very much true contenders. I do believe that we missed the opportunity in signing another top striker, giving the team more tactical options and not relying on Higuain all season the way we did with Cavani. Maybe we bring back Vargas and he can should how good he really is.

Great start to the season!. Let's pick up another win in the San Siro.
on the 21st September, 2013 at 3:05pm

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