When Rafa Benitez opted to bring the soon to be 28-year-old Raul Albiol to the San Paolo six years ago, few thought that the Spaniard would outlast two different coaches and end up making over 200 appearances for Napoli. However, the Real Madrid outcast quickly became a club stalwart and a reliable partner in the middle of defence alongside the Partenopei’s most prized asset – Kalidou Koulibaly.
After six seasons in Southern Italy though, it was time to grant Albiol’s request to go back home to play out the final years of his career. Much like Albiol when he arrived in Naples, his replacement – Kostas Manolas – is 28-years-old, has plenty of experience and will be tasked with partnering Koulibaly in what should be one of the best defences on the peninsula – if not Europe.
While most Partenopei fans were sad to see Albiol go, there is no question that Manolas is a significant upgrade at this point in their respective careers. The Greek international has already spent five seasons plying his trade in the Italian top flight with Roma and is widely regarded as a top five centre-back in the league already. Having Manolas playing next to Koulibaly should be enough for Napoli to intimidate any opponent. Despite their size though, Koulibaly and Manolas are deceptively quick and are more than capable of building up play from the back.
Regardless, it will be their physical presence in the box that will most terrify attackers as both are quite disciplined and understand their primary job as defenders. Playing in front of the talented Alex Meret will also help provide reassurance if they do decide to make a move up the field.
Manolas isn’t the only player Napoli have brought in this summer to help shore up their back line either. The club also acquired right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo from Empoli for €9.5 million with the likes of Mario Rui and Elseid Hysaj seemingly on their way out. The 25-year-old scored five goals and provided three assists for Empoli last season and will help provide an offensive spark down the right flank.
According to Opta, only Trent Alexander-Arnold (9) and Andrew Robertson (8) had been directly involved in more goals than Di Lorenzo (8) between defenders in the top-5 European Leagues in 2019.
Napoli finished the 2017-18 campaign having conceded just 29 goals – the second lowest total in all of Serie A. The only team who conceded less was Manolas’ Roma allowing just 28 goals. Unfortunately, Napoli couldn’t match that success in the first season under Carlo Ancelotti as the Southern Italians allowed a disappointing 36 goals last year. A fact that has not been lost on Carletto and one of the biggest reasons he is looking to overhaul a back line that largely let him down when it mattered most.
With the new additions and the prospects of a healthy Farouzi Ghoulam starting with the team from the first day of training camp, Napoli supporters have reason to be optimistic about their defence. Whether they can return to the elite level that they reached under Maurizio Sarri remains to be seen, but there can be no denying that Carletto finally has all the resources required to make it happen.
Napoli have the pieces, now it’s time for Ancelotti to build his wall.
By Marco D’Onofrio