Lorenzo Insigne – A
Lorenzo has been nothing short of talismanic this season, as the hometown kid revels in the added responsibility and status brought on after committing his long term future to Napoli. There has been something different about Lorenzo this season, which I don’t know if other fans have noticed, but there are signs of maturity and leadership emerging in Lorenzo which has seen some fantastic performances this season both at home and in Europe.
In my opinion, Lorenzo is the man who takes Napoli from normal to extraordinary; he raises the bar, he sets the standard.
Sure, we have a wonderful conductor in midfield in the form of Jorginho, the pit bull that is Allan, and of course Capitano himself, Marek Hamsik but even those players can struggle without Lorenzo in the side. This was never more noticeable than when Lorenzo was injured recently, as Napoli looked ordinary and often devoid of ideas without him, resorting to makeshift front three combinations, which more often than not seen Piotr Zielinski step in, out of position, wide on the left of the front three.
In Serie A, Lorenzo has 5 goals and 5 assists this season; half the goals of Dries and the same number of assists. However, while Dries has scored more he has often looked tired at various stages and little wonder due to the strains of more or less carrying Napoli’s goal threat for so long after the sale of Higuain and the loss to injury of Arek Milik.
However for me, Lorenzo just pips Dries at the post this season simply due to the sheer impact of him being in the side.
He raises our levels, he’s capable of things others simply aren’t, he can win a game with one drop of the shoulder, a jink inside onto his right foot, and that wonderful curling effort into the top corner. If Marek Hamsik is the icon of Napoli, then Lorenzo Insigne is our embodied spirit; he carries the hopes and dreams of an entire city and several generations of supporters in his blood and if he can retain the form he’s shown so far, he could take us onto great things this season.
Our star performer in my opinion.
Dries Mertens – B+
Asking Dries to keep up the level of consistency shown last season was never going to be easy; in fact it was near impossible. Marco D’Onofrio last season described Mertens’ performances as “supernatural” as the Belgian swept all who stepped before him; left foot, right foot, dead ball, you name it, he finished it.
And yet, while all this is true, Dries did start the season on fire with his goals at Lazio and Genoa the obvious highlights from the first half of the season. In fact, his goal at the Olimpico was enough to see the Neapolitan press dub him “Diego Armando Mertens” such was the technique, vision, and similarity to a goal scored by Maradona himself against Lazio at the San Paolo in a 4-0 win in 1985.
And yet, while his season started well, Dries has slowly reverted to a more traditional role in the side, trading goals for assists in recent weeks with 3 assists in his last 4 Serie A games, forever going down in history as the man who set up Marek Hamsik to become Napoli’s all time record goal scorer.
With 10 goals and 5 assists in Serie A this season, some may say a B+ is harsh on Dries, simply because he isn’t playing badly. However, for me it’s more a testament to the levels he reached last season and the fact it would be incredibly unfair to expect him to reach those heights again.
Dries remains an integral and vitally important member of the squad and the worry for the rest of Serie A is that Dries could quite easily find those shooting boots again, and we all know what happens then.
A very solid first half of the season for ‘Ciro’.
Jose Callejon – C
No player divides the opinion of our support like Callejon and it’s due to this that I feel a large degree of sympathy for Calleti during what is arguably his quietest spell in a Napoli jersey. Under current manager Maurizio Sarri, Callejon had been the assist king of Napoli, laying on goal after goal and always sitting near, or top, of the Serie A assist charts. This season, Callejon has just 3 assists to his name, albeit he does now have 6 goals.
This season however, Callejon has found both assists and goals hard to come by as he snatches at chances, often resulting in the now sadly ‘trademarked’ expression of Callejon standing with his face in his hands in disbelief.
For us at Sempre! it’s not been easy to watch, because we have always championed Callejon on our show for his work ethic down the right hand side of the pitch. His overlapping with Hysaj and tracking back to win possession is integral to our ball retention and thankfully that part of his game has remained intact this season; no-one can say that Callejon’s energy levels have dropped.
So, why grade C? Well, ultimately you need a forward to be scoring and creating goals, especially in our system. While we have kept the back door shut superbly this season, conceding just 13 times in 20 Serie A matches, we’ve also lost a little bit up front which is in no small part due to both Dries’ recent switch from scorer to creator as well as Callejon’s dip in quality in the final third.
I’ve graded Callejon on the job he should be doing, rather than the other aspects of his game; the tracking back, winning back possession, etc … all of which are excellent but that’s not why Callejon was signed.
However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel, as against Verona we finally seen another Callejon trademark, but this time a welcome one; the Insigne to Callejon back post run and finish. His strike against Verona, which made him the highest scoring Spaniard in Italian football history, could have the same impact as another record breaker, Marek Hamsik. Our Capitano has looked more like his old self since breaking Maradona’s record for Napoli, so fingers crossed that the same can happen for Callejon.
Having graded our main front three, I want to round off by saying that what’s important to remember is that we’re top of the table and 10 points better off compared to last season despite two of our front three not being quite near the levels they found last campaign.
What’s that old saying again? That’s right, it’s “Strikers win games, defences win championships”. So far this season, after being lauded by all for being so free scoring and entertaining, we’re building from the back for success.
Now, onto the fringe players:
Adam Ounas – D
A rating based more on playing time than the quality of his play, Ounas has seen just 87 minutes of Serie A football this season with each of his six appearances coming from the bench. When Ounas does get pitch time, he looks enthusiastic and eager to please, but he remains a young, raw talent that needs more time to hone his skills and learn his trade. If given the game time by Sarri going forward he could develop into something special, but given the great rotation debate right now you’ve got to wonder just how much Serie A action Ounas will see between now and May.
Arkadiusz Milik – N/A
We were all delighted when Arek returned midway into the season last year and his pre-season form gave fans great encouragement that the Polish striker was back and raring to go. It’s hard not to like Arek, he just comes across a big, friendly, genuine guy with a heart of gold and when he went down with that second ACL injury against SPAL the concern from both fans and team mates was as touching as it was saddening; who can forget the expression on Dries Mertens face after being subbed off, standing there hands on his head?
Thankfully, Arek is closing in on another miracle recovery as he looks to return to first team training soon, but he’ll still be used sparingly as he builds up strength and regains match fitness. Due to injury, there’s no grade for Arek, it’s simply not fair to judge him based on what time he did get before being cruelly injured.
Emanuele Giaccherini – N/A
Loved by fans of the Italian national side and lamented by Napoli fans, Giaccherini has seen just 60 minutes of Serie A action over 4 substitute appearances so far this season. The round peg on the proverbial square hole, a bid from Fiorentina was reportedly rejected by the club amid claims the players agent was furious at the way his client has been treated.
For both Giaccherini and Napoli’s sake I hope he moves on soon.
By James McGhie Follow @jrmcghie