With Napoli's league season about to get underway, it's time to take stock and see what we think is coming. To that end, our staff sat down and shared their thoughts on how this season will wind up.
How Far Will Napoli Take This Europa Journey?
Conor: Not far. It's likely that they can get through to the knockout rounds with how kind their group draw was, but I'm not expecting the draws to stay kind after that. If the league season goes sideways I could see the focus shifting to trying to win the Europa League and qualify for the Champions League that way, but I'm hoping it doesn't come to that.
Kirsten: Well, Aurelio De Laurentiis seems to have made it clear Napoli will be focusing on the league, not that second tournament no one really cares about. If the squad emerge from the group and get a favorable next draw, however, they may decide to rethink that. But gambling on that one Champions League spot from a Europa win seems so very, very risky.
Will Rafa Benitez Last The Season?
Conor: I... don't think so, no. Losing the Champions League playoff had to have been a big blow to his credibility with Aurelio De Laurentiis, and as soon as the league campaign gets squirrelly at all, ADL will show him the door. Unless Rafa fixes his long-standing problem with his team losing points to lesser teams, the league campaign will take some body blows at some point, and that won't be good for Rafa.
Kirsten: ADL isn't as trigger-happy as some owners -- although it's not as though anyone can really measure up to Zamparini, can they? I'd say it depends more on if a favorable option opens up. The fans, of course, will clamor for a sacking as soon as Napoli lose their first match, but if there's no one in line to take on the gig, I think Rafa will have to stick around and take the heat.
Who Will Napoli's Key Man Be?
Conor: As much as I want to say Marek Hamsik, it's looking more and more like the key is going to be Raul Albiol. The Spanish international is Napoli's main man in defense, and with how shaky the back line has been looking, his leadership and quality will be absolutely vital.
Kirsten: Conor lies. It's Hamsik. I have a gut feeling about this season, and it says that, even more so than in recent years, Serie A is gong to be a just-score-one-more-than-the-other-guys league. And if Marek is orchestrating, is shaping play, is setting up the goals, and is scoring them once more, Napoli might get a few extra points to compensate for the ridiculous defense. A healthy Marekiaro is a healthy Napoli.
Where Will Napoli Finish In Serie A?
Conor: I really, really, really hope that Napoli win the title, but... I don't think they will. I do think they have enough to finish second, though, with Roma dealing with their own Champions League campaign for the first time in years and not really having the depth to deal with that yet.
Kirsten: I'm really not all that optimistic right now. Not after the defeat to Athletic Bilbao, where everything just seemed to go to pieces. On the other hand, Juventus could stumble, Roma will find their Champions League experience rather rough, Inter have to travel all over the place for Europa League (plus, I don't understand all the fuss over their new players), and Fiorentina haven't done enough over the offseason. Napoli need to aim for the scudetto, but be ok with second when May comes around.