The 2019/20 Serie A season is one week away from commencement and yet there are a substantial number of potential big name transfers looming overhead. Like an overstuffed pinata, teams are blindly whacking away in hopes of spilling precious loot into their rosters that will give them the advantage in what could be a competitive Scudetto race.
Napoli are one of those teams. They took their swings early on and landed some nice spoils in Giovanni Di Lorenzo, a right back who will replace and upgrade the outgoing Elseid Hysaj. Di Lorenzo brings a solid defensive ability and having scored 5 goals last season for Empoli, is no slouch assisting in attack either. Perhaps the biggest prize Napoli scooped up is center back, Kostas Manolas. The large Greek defender earned his stripes with Roma in big games against Barcelona and will be paired with Napoli’s own Kalidou Koulibaly, forming the best defensive pairing in Serie A. Part of the deal in acquiring Manolas was giving up Amadou Diawara. The young defensive minded midfielder was much needed insurance for a team light on such players. However, Napoli wasted no time in securing a replacement in young Macedonian prospect Eljif Elmas. Having played a couple of preseason matches, the potential of Elmas has shined through and he already appears to be a much more assertive player than Diawara.
Napoli are still working on trimming the excess off of their roster with names such as Simone Verdi, Adam Ounas and Lorenzo Tonelli, but having retained the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Allan and Lorenzo Insigne should not be dismissed. They form the backbone of the club and good on club president Aurelio De Laurentiis to recognize and preserve the strength of the roster while building around them. Napoli’s president took his swings early on knowing in the late stages of the game it’s best to let another be the one to break open the suspended container filled with prizes so he could be ready to pounce when the sweetest candy begins to fall.
One of those big name prizes is currently in the club’s grasp and Napoli tifosi (fans) are impatiently awaiting the formal announcement of Mexican national Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. The young forward is capable of playing both sides of the pitch and earned a name for himself as one of the most promising players at PSV Eindhoven where he scored 17 goals in 30 appearances last season. Having earned his nickname from his penchant as a prankster, Lozano is a Mexican fan favorite, having scored in big games for his national team.
While Napoli have had a nice mercato without the potential big name signings, is it enough to get the team over the Juve hump and seriously contend for a Scudetto or advance beyond the group stage in Champion’s League? The odds are it is not. A few holes remain and De Laurentiis is aware and has spoken of filling them having said he wants to add another striker to the lineup. He has also outwardly spoken of his faith in manager Carlo Ancelotti and wants to give him every resource possible within the club’s financial abilities.
Arkadiusz Milik at times is one of the finest strikers in all of Serie A. Returning from two knee surgeries, the tall Polish international bagged 17 goals last season, good enough for 5th best in the league. Yet tifosi see the ones he missed. The shots that sailed just wide, the improbable headers that went over the net instead of into it, and the one that hit the post against Liverpool that forced Napoli out of Champions League. Milik is a good striker but not a great one. Like many players he has moments of poor quality, slumps, and unfortunately Napoli do not possess a like for like replacement. Dries Mertens is the ultimate offensive utility man. He can do it all offensively and while young talented prospect and Neapolitan Gianluca Gaetano has been promoted to the big club, can he be relied upon at such a young age with little experience? Besides, it would seem Gaetano’s strengths lie in creating opportunities rather than finishing them.
Now there is Mauro Icardi, dangling out of the suspended pinata. One of the best in the world at finishing scoring opportunities. An area that Napoli suffered time and time again last season. Will he fall, and who will be fortunate enough to add his services to their mercato prize bag? Along side Icardi is Carlo Ancelotti’s much desired James Rodriguez. While Napoli have plenty of quality attacking midfield options, James is yet another improvement that when paired with the other additions becomes an even more important acquisition if Napoli truly want to stand toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite. There is only one week left before the season begins and two weeks before the mercato closes. De Laurentiis awaits like a Cheshire cat, grinning upwards, knowing he has positioned himself to pounce on the opportunities as they tumble towards him.
by Eric Passariello