Napoli completed their sixth game of the season home at the San Paulo against Parma where they won in convincing style 3-0. Lorenzo Insigne wasted no time netting his fifth goal of the season in the 3′ while Arkadiusz Milik added two more in the second half, bringing his season total to three. The game featured nine changes from the previous match with Torino and fielded the sixth different lineup in as many games. With a season defining match on the horizon against rivals Juventus, the question begs to be asked, “Just who are Napoli’s best starting XI”?
The beauty of this question is it rather lends to the quality of the players Napoli and Ancelotti have at their disposal. If ten people were asked who Napoli’s best eleven players are, one would hear ten different answers, and none of which would seem far fetched. Further investigation is required with questions such as who are they playing against? Who needs rest? Is there another game coming up that requires a specific tactic that a certain player merits a start? To understand where Ancelotti might steer his Napoli squad next, a look at where he has been may provide us with some clues.
To start the season, Carlo Ancelotti didn’t disturb too much of what had brought Napoli success under former manager Maurizio Sarri. The game against Lazio began with a 4-3-3 formation and saw the usual suspects but with a new face in goal, Orestis Karnezis. Napoli went down early 1-0 but after half time came out with more vigor and overcame the early deficit to win 2-1.
Napoli’s second game against AC Milan started much the same as the first. The game began with a 4-3-3 formation and featured the same lineup with the exception of newly acquired David Ospina in goal. Only after Napoli had gone down by two goals did Ancelotti make a change that would be his first small step towards an improved more dynamic Napoli. Dries Mertens entered the game replacing Marek Hamšík and Napoli switched to a 4-4-2 featuring Mertens and Arek Milik at the top of the formation. The change payed dividends and Napoli found the tying goal. Amadou Diawara was then subbed in for Piotr Zieliński and a 4-2-3-1 was deployed in an effort to secure the win which Napoli achieved when Mertens found the back of the net in the 80′.
The third contest against formidable home side Sampdoria would prove to be a wake up call for Napoli. A game that saw the same 4-3-3 which oft appeared to be a sloppy 4-4-2 ended with Napoli losing 3-0. Simone Verdi and Amadou Diawara each received a start and Adam Ounas and Marko Rog received their first minutes of the season subbing in for Diawara and Verdi who both struggled in this one. It appeared time for Ancelotti to make a more permanent switch to the 4-4-2.
Against Fiorentina and in a 4-4-2 that featured another small change with Insigne and Mertens paired together to spear the attack, José Callejón was free to drive up and down the right side of the pitch as an attacking midfielder and Napoli earned a 1-0 victory off a goal from Insigne who was lined up as a ‘trequartista’. Giving Raúl Albiol a rest, Nikola Maksimović would see his first start and showed he may have a future as Kalidou Koulibaly’s partner.
It all clicked for Napoli against Torino, after they finished 0-0 in a midweek Champions League match against Red Star Belgrade. Although Fabián Ruiz made the most of his start in the Champions League game, completing 101 passes which placed him second in that category, Marko Rog would instead get the start. The match would belong to Lorenzo Insigne however, who scored two goals and appeared to be the featured star player that every Napoli fan has dreamed of. Ancelotti had somehow taken an already skilled, high quality player, and unlocked his full potential. Verdi would add to the score sheet and Napoli would take home a 3-1 victory.
Another small change placed José Callejón and Simone Verdi on the edge where they had the freedom to join the attack, morphing the defensively stable 4-4-2 into a lethal 4-2-3-1 offensive machine and back again as required. Luperto was given a start over the frequently relied upon Mário Rui but unfortunately finished the match injured.
Each game Carlo Ancelotti has made a small change and provided the players an opportunity to build their confidence, keeping the squad both energetic and fresh. In the most recent game against Parma, Insigne thrived once again in his new role. Kévin Malcuit was given his first start of the season and impressed early as he played with a confident demeanor that should earn him more minutes in the weeks ahead.
In only the sixth game of the season, every player on the Napoli squad that is healthy and capable of fielding the pitch has been given minutes and a chance to show their worth. What other team can claim that? We may not know who the best XI players are for Napoli, but that is what this writer loves most about this team. Their identity is a true team effort, from the captain Marek Hamšík to the last player on the bench. This Napoli squad is special, and every player is a genuine part of its success story.