To follow up James and his work on Arek Milik, the rest of the Sempre! podcast team has assembled their list of breakout players for this season:
Raffa Rispo – Piotr Zielinski
Last season, Piotr Zielinski played in 36 of 38 Serie A matches, starting 14 of them and coming off the bench 22 times, averaging 46.1 minutes a match. The majority of his sub appearances were for our beloved, but underachieving captain Marek Hamsik, and often times, Zielinski provided the change of pace we needed to secure or preserve a victory. This preseason under Ancelotti, Hamsik has been tested as a regista and in my opiniont, it hasn’t worked so well for him, leading me believe that he’ll be brought back into a prominent attacking midfield role.
But why not give that role to Zielinski? The Polish international only provided 4 goals and 3 assists in Serie A, they were spread out through 7 separate matches, all wins. Zielinski is one of the highest rated young midfielders in Europe and permanently, alongside Allan and Fabian or Diawara, would flourish in this role. But how do you replace “il nostro oro’collato”? Ancelotti has already begged Hamsik to not move to China, so does he have plans to rotate between the two well enough to compete? Season starts Saturday and time will tell.
Kirsten Schlewitz – Nikola Maksimović
When people think of a “breakout player”, they’re unlikely to think about a central defender who probably won’t take on a starting role. But I think a breakout season for Mak would be establishing he can take over from Raúl Albiol, who is now nearly 33; a long injury layoff is not out of the question.
Napoli paid 29 million for Maksimovic in 2016 and I still maintain he’s worth it. He was one of the best in the league at Torino and under Ancelotti he should mature. He does lose concentration sometimes—we certainly saw that in the disastrous friendly against Liverpool—but it looks like something is already clicking, as he came back and showed what he’s made of in the win against Dortmund, even scoring a superb header. He can use his head to read the game as well and I think we’ll see that. Plus, not only is he pretty, but I like to call him “Mak”, which means “poppyseed” in Serbian…which is fun.
Frank Sidekick – Adam Ounas
I was delighted that we signed him last year to compete with Jose Callejon for the right sided forward berth. I love Callejon but I was worried that he’d get burnt out by over use. Predictably, Sarri played the Spanish wizard into the ground and, like our other forwards, his performances tailed off after February. Therefore, in terms of the league, it was hugely frustrating to see just seven substitute appearances and 89 minutes of action from Ounas last season. In the flashes that we’ve seen of him so far, he has pace to burn, confidence to take players on and he strikes the ball with a good technique.
Pre-season signs were good – his performance against Chievo was excellent, with this:
persistent dribble being particularly memorable. He’s started playing for Algeria so regular international football will add to his development, too. On the other hand, Verdi’s signing mean there are now three right sided forwards competing for one place. A season long loan could be sensible but I’d love him to break through with us since his pace and directness is something we don’t have on the right side of our team.
Ken Cioffredi – Amadou Diawara
After the 2016-17 season, I think most Napoli fans would’ve bet Amadou Diawara would’ve been too good last year to be on an article like this. A year later though, and here we are. In 2017-18 Diawara played a total of 1,274 minutes, down from 1,788 the year prior, and with only 642 of those minutes coming in the league. Admittedly, some of this is due to the insane form of Jorginho last season, but as fatigue played it’s part in our stretch run, it was sad to see a slight decline in such a promising player.
This is a new dawn though, and Diawara hass only just turned 21 years old in July. He has grown into his frame a bit, and provides a lot of redeeming qualities. He is a very good passer of the ball as a regista, has loads of confidence to move the ball forward on his own, and has well rounded defensive abilities. Carlo Ancelotti is going to ask for midfield versatility and flexibility, and it is my prediction that Amadou Diawara cements his role as one of our midfield stalwarts in 2018-19.
Oh, about that passing ability…