In the wake of the gut-punch draw against Bologna on Sunday, Marek Hamsik gave an interview to the press. Doing so made sense: he'd just made his first appearance in the league since his ill-fated substitute jaunt against Parma, and made a huge and instant impact as soon as he stepped on the pitch. What he said, though, caused a bit of a stir, as he implied that Napoli would be better off targeting second place than pushing for the Scudetto.
Understandably, that's left a number of Napoli fans scratching their heads. After the blistering start to the season, the Scudetto has been on everyone's minds, and to see one of the squad's leaders looking any lower on the table can be frustrating to see, especially in wake of some equally-frustrating performances in the league and dropping out of the Champions League.
You know what, though? Hamsik is right to be targeting second, at least for now.
Thanks largely to a twelve-match win streak, Juventus are well in the lead for the title chase and sit 12 points ahead of the partenopei right now. Roma, also thanks to a season-opening ten-match unbeaten spell as well as having given up just ten goals all season, are a much more manageable four points ahead of Napoli. It's a perfectly reasonable stance for the club to focus on what's immediately ahead of them, get past it, and then look to the next hurdle on their journey.
What also needs to be considered as fans vent their frustration is that Napoli's current total of 43 points represents the club's best start to this point of the season. Even the best years under Walter Mazzarri weren't this well-off just past the halfway point. Also, last year's Juve side that ultimately won the Scudetto stood at 45 points after 20 matches, so the current standing has more to do with this season's Juve being on a ludicrous run of form rather than Napoli simply failing to keep pace.
Still, what Napoli need to do before anything else is to play well on a more consistent basis. Their longest winning streak this season is just four matches, which were the opening four matches of the season that got fans excited over the season's prospects. The only thing that Rafa Benitez and company have done consistently all season is drop points against clubs they should be beating with ease: Sassuolo, Parma, Udinese, Cagliari, and Bologna all represent lost opportunities. Sassuolo and Udinese sting in particular, as those matches were at home; in fact, those four dropped points alone would see Napoli level with Roma on points.
While shooting for the big goals is always a good thing, the wiser approach more often than not is to focus on what's in front of you and chip away at it. It's not sexy and it's far less exciting than saying "we should go for the Scudetto right now!", but it's a solid approach that makes it easier to keep you from over-reaching and falling short of more attainable goals. Passing Roma and getting a firm grasp on second place, thus avoiding the risk of falling short in a Champions League qualifying match, needs to be the immediate goal. After that, the crosshairs can be placed higher.
Of course, buying a good defender or two in the meantime wouldn't hurt.