Hindsight is always a convenient venue to comment from but even before their fantastic win against Liverpool, Napoli were always tipped as dark horses. Carlo Ancelotti has moulded this side in his image and will be quietly confident of going deep into this year’s competition.
Napoli Can Be This Season’s Champions League Dark Horses
The Ethos at Napoli
Naples is one of the more vibrant cities across Europe and its stadium, San Paolo, is reflective of everything about it. The city is dripping with references to culture, history and heritage, and now they’re forming a team in the same image. Napoli’s team is a perfect blend of youth and exuberance coupled with experience and knowhow. Carlo Ancelotti has taken the remains of Maurizio Sarri’s squad and turned it into a dynamic, fearful side.
Both in Italy and Europe, Napoli’s history is often forgotten. Despite not having won the coveted European Cup, Napoli have never been pushovers at any stage of the competition. Real Madrid needed some brilliance from Casemiro to gain any comfort in the 2016/17 season. The Naples side bowed out of the competition only on goal difference. They registered impressive wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool and lost only one game- away to eventual winners, Liverpool. This season, the team seems more dynamic and forward-thinking. Their cruel defeat to Juventus in Serie A is a testament to how their mentality has switched from last season. Where they would look deflated while trailing last season, they are giving it a real go this time around. Summer recruitment has been smart and prudent. Napoli seem dark horses this season. Naples will look to create history whilst being in the shadows.
The Coach and Team
Carlo Ancelotti is one of the most decorated managers in Europe. Respected by almost everyone in the industry, he’s a serial winner. His charisma and nous will be central to any potential success that Napoli might achieve. Having managed Europe’s very top clubs in AC Milan, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, ‘Carletto’, as he’s lovingly known, has more than a few ways to set up his sides. He developed one of the most attacking Real Madrid sides in recent history and played some of the most scintillating football that the Premier League has ever seen with his title-winning Chelsea side. His Napoli side is shaping up to be similarly attacking.
With summer signing Hirving Lozano partnering Dries Mertens up top, the Italian side has a prudent strike partnership to rely on. To mix things up, they inject another dimension to the game with Fernando Llorente and Arkadiusz Milik being more than capable target men. The frontmen are supported by two of the most underrated wingers across Europe – Jose Callejon and captain Lorenzo Insigne. Both players have been part of the fulcrum of recent Napoli sides. In Allan, Elmas and Zielinski, they have midfielders who put in a shift each time they step onto the pitch. To cap it off, they signed one of the most promising creative midfielders in Europe in Fabian Ruiz from Betis. Kalidou Koulibaly leads the way at the back where the defence is full of quality.
Style of Play and Tactics
Ancelotti’s side is looking like a side capable of playing multiple ways. Against Liverpool, they applied a counter-pressing and counter-attacking scheme to stop the Reds from having comfortable possession of the ball. At other times during the night, they sat back deep and controlled the game by maintaining a compact shape. Allan was the standout midfielder as he limited Roberto Firmino‘s influence on the game. A side capable of playing multiple ways is always a dangerous proposition in cup competitions and Napoli will be looking to capitalize on that.