Losing Lorenzo Insigne to injury was a big blow to Napoli, as he'd been one of the side's best attacking players for a month when he went down against Fiorentina. It looked like Napoli would be able to struggle through to the transfer window, though, thanks to the presence of Dries Mertens... then he, too, was felled by injury.
Speaking to Radio Kiss Kiss today, Rafa Benitez confirmed that Mertens is almost certain to miss Napoli's match this weekend at home against Cagliari. The Belgian still hasn't returned to Italy after suffering a concussion and temporary paralysis while playing for Belgium on Sunday, and he is still suffering the after-effects of the blow to his head. Without another winger to deploy across from Jose Callejon, that's going to leave Rafa scrambling to figure out how to line up his side this weekend, as well as any other matches Mertens misses.
The speculation is that Jonathan De Guzman will be the first man brought in to the starting lineup to try and fill that gap, speculation that Benitez did nothing to dispel. "De Guzman to play on the left? For many years I have coached and it is those who train who have the least chance of missing out," he said, obliquely referring to the fact that De Guzman has been in training all week as he wasn't called to his national team.
While De Guzman's form suffered for awhile earlier this season, his last couple of appearances have been top-notch. He drove the side and scored a hat trick against Young Boys in the Europa League, then had an impressive spell as a substitute against Fiorentina just a few days later. He's struggled when used wide this season, but if he's deployed on the left he'd be able to more easily cut in and utilize his stronger right foot, rather than trying to put the ball in to the box with crosses, which he's not that great at.
Rafa also floated the idea of using Marek Hamsik on the left and putting De Guzman central, which could work since Marekiaro has more experience working in that area from his time in Mazzarri's "tridente." He also raised the possibility of pushing Faouzi Ghoulam and his strong attacking work up to the wing from his normal fullback spot, which sounds interesting... right up until you realize that means Miguel Britos starting at left back, then it gets uninteresting in a hurry.
There's also always the potential that Rafa changes his formation to better suit the players still available to him, but anyone familiar with Rafa knows there's only an outside shot of that at best. Still, there's some intriguing possibilities that lie down that road, possibilities we'll get in to later on down the line.
There is some good news for Napoli fans, though: according to Rafa, both Michu and Camilo Zuniga have been training well as they work to come back from their respective injuries. While Napoli's manager was vague as to when they might return, it does seem as though both could be available relatively soon. Getting them back will go a long ways towards making Napoli fans feel better about the current squad situation, especially if Mertens has to miss a longer than expected period of time while recovering from his concussion.