Lorenzo Insigne is out for a long, long time. One of Napoli's best attackers, and a major driving force of the squad for the last month, is on the sidelines with a serious knee injury. So what can Napoli do to fill that void?
The First Step Is Simple: Start Dries Mertens
Fortunately, Napoli have another talented attacking mid who mostly plays on the left side: Dries Mertens. The Belgian international has been a regular in the Napoli side, and fans (as well as color commentators with no concept of "formations") frequently beg Rafa Benitez to play Mertens more often. Typically, Mertens and Insigne have rotated match-to-match when Napoli play three times a week, and are picked between based on tactical matchups when Napoli have more time to rest.
Now, though, Mertens will have to shoulder the load at that position. The attacker hasn't been in quite the same form as he was for much of last season, though, and has been lagging ever since his brace against Sparta Prague in the Europa League almost two months ago. He's been slowly trending upwards of late, though, and hopefully the extra focus of the task at hand will help further sharpen Mertens' ability to perform.
What About Depth?
One concern, though, is that Mertens has rarely been able to play every match during congested runs of the schedule like Napoli have been facing. With a vital run of matches coming up, what other options to Napoli have at the position?
At the moment... not many. Rafa Benitez has wanted to experiment with using Camilo Zuniga as a winger, and indeed we have seen him start on the wing once and come in to several matches late in more forward positions than we're used to seeing. The Colombian is also hurt, though, meaning that option isn't available until his ailing knee gets better. Any chance that Michu could help out is also derailed by injury, though the Spaniard has never really played out wide.
Jonathan De Guzman has impressed in his last two appearances, bagging a hat trick against Young Boys and helping drive the attack as a sub against Fiorentina. He's struggled when used as a right winger this season, though, and he's never been particularly effective out wide. At least on the left, though, he'd be able to cut in and better utilize his stronger right foot, and the potential of he and Marek Hamsik playing off one another in the final third is intriguing.
There's also always the ability to dip in to the Primavera for emergency depth, but Napoli's best attacking mid prospects are all either hurt (Gennaro Tutino) or away on loan (Roberto Insigne, Gianluca D'Auria). Napoli might be able to limp through to the winter break with their depth as-is, especially if Zuniga somehow comes back soon, but it's going to be a rough ride in terms of the attacking rotation.
A New Signing Is A Must
This is a position that Napoli tried to address during the summer transfer window, but were unable to for various reasons. Now, bringing in a new winger in January is an absolute requirement, lest further injuries or a player in that attacking midfield band falling out of form doom Napoli's season.
Several names that Napoli were linked to over the summer are being dredged up again, the most logical of which are Andre Ayew of Marseilles and Paul-Jose Mpoku of Standard Liege. Both are quality attackers (Ayew is the far better of the two, but Mpoku has taken great strides over the last year), and both have contracts that expire at the end of this season. That will make prying them away from their respective clubs a much easier and cheaper affair than other rumored targets, such as Wolfsburg's Ivan Perisic.
No matter who is signed, though, they have to have at least some degree of versatility. The ability to play on either flank would be a huge boon, because that would make it easier for Rafa to rest Jose Callejon as well, as the Spaniard has already shown fatigue at times this season thanks to playing so much. This needs to be a player who doesn't just help Napoli get through the rest of the season, but who can be a part of the side for the next few years while Napoli grow and find further success.
Napoli can probably limp through to the winter break as-is, and as long as they are aggressive and fast about bringing in another attacker in January, they'll be fine for the rest of the season. Losing Insigne is a big blow for Napoli, but thankfully it's not a death knell for the season. The club has the quality and resources to get by without him, and be all the stronger for it when he returns next season. It's not often that a club has the chance to actually improve in the long run thanks to a serious injury, but here we are.