Is this reverse psychology, or is Gennaro Sardo speaking what he believes to be true? In a radio interview, the Chievo defender praised the Napoli squad:
When it comes to the starting lineup, Napoli is not inferior to anyone. Surely their attack is the strongest in Europe, certainly better than Juventus or Roma. (translated from quote in TuttoNapoli).
There's no denying Napoli have a potent attack. Gonzalo Higuaín, Marek Hamšík, José Callejón, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne...even Michu and Duván Zapata have the ability to threaten opposition defenses. But those players have flaws: Pipita looked as though he thought he was playing all by himself against Genoa, Insigne has been unable to shake off the supporters' criticism, and Marek, well, we're just hoping Marek returns to his dangerous self.
Chievo Verona, who visit the San Paolo on Sunday for Napoli's home opener, are well aware of the threats the Juventus attackers pose. Sure, the Old Lady were only able to beat them 1-0 (and that goal was scored by the Flying Donkeys) but Juventus were all over the place, getting in 21 shots. Kingsley Coman was terrifying, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal both hit woodwork, and Fernando Llorente came in off the bench.
Then there's Roma, whose threats seem to come from anywhere, but are particularly frightening out wide. They bossed Fiorentina throughout the first half, and although Vincenzo Montella made tactical changes that stifled the giallorossi in the second half, Roma were still able to find the way to a late second goal.
Of course, so did Napoli. All three were winners last week, and all three looked good going forward. Perhaps Sardo is right in saying Napoli pose the greatest threat. Or perhaps he's just a fan of his hometown club.
What matters is that, of the top challengers for this season's scudetto, Napoli look, by far, the worst at the back. Gokhan Inler provided almost none of the defensive shielding he is so often capable of, and without it, the defense flailed about. The side failed to put any pressure on Genoa when they had the ball, looking almost nervous when out of possession.
Last season, Napoli visited Chievo in the second round. Hamšík put his side in front, but a pair of goals from Alberto Paloschi meant the sides were level at the break. Napoli won 4-2, but this time around, that's not a chance that can be afforded. We know the attack is dangerous. Yet so is the defense -- and not in a good way.
If Napoli really want to make a challenge to the scudetto, it has to happen from the start. And that means not making the same mistakes once more, whether they're the ones of last season or last round.