When Napoli's lineup was released on Thursday for their Europa League match against FC Midtjylland, many were hesitant and worried about how the match would go. The side had been heavily rotated from the team that drew Genoa 0-0, and no one was sure what to expect from what looked rather like a patchwork side. Instead of what people feared would happen, Napoli went out and dominated the day, thrashing Midtjylland 5-0 thanks in very large part to the players who came into the side.
As we talked about a bit earlier in the week, Napoli have used just 18 different players in the league, the fewest in Serie A. Even adding in Europa League matches, the count isn't much higher, standing at 21 players total. Maurizio Sarri has put a lot of mileage on his core group of players, and that wear has started to show up in recent matches, leading to the team's fairly flat performance against Genoa at the weekend.
The second unit got a chance to show off on Thursday and ran with it, with players who didn't start on Sunday scoring Napoli's first four goals and bagging all four of Napoli's assists in the match. Every player who was brought into the team performed very well, better than expected by far, and all probably earned much more playing time over the coming weeks.
The two least-surprising positive performances were from David Lopez and Vlad Chiriches, though perhaps no one expected them to be quite that good. Lopez has been the fourth midfielder in a three-man midfield, and Chiriches is Napoli's third center back, so they've both played a fair amount of minutes, albeit with their starts somewhat scattered around. After Lopez gave a surprisingly strong Allan imitation and Chiriches outplayed Kalidou Koulibaly, though, both could start seeing a few more starts than they've gotten so far.
Of course, there's also Lorenzo Insigne, who was benched at the weekend after his outburst during the Palermo match. Everyone hoped that he would bounce back strongly, and he did, helping drive Napoli's attack and getting a gorgeous assist on their first goal. That goal was scored by Omar El Kaddouri, making just his second start of the season and looking very good in doing so. He scored that opening goal and added an assist later on, and may have earned something more than the "attacking utilityman" minutes he's seen so far this season.
Then there's Christian Maggio and Mirko Valdifiori. The pair were regular starters early in the season, but poor performances lead to both getting benches for alternatives who have performed much better. Both looked excellent on Thursday, though, with Vladifiori having his best match since joining Napoli this summer and Maggio having his best showing in, well, a very long time, including his first goal in over two years.
Manolo Gabbiadini may have had the best day, though, scoring his second straight Europa League brace and constantly unsettling Midtjylland's defense with clever runs. His strong Europa League play hasn't quite translated to Serie A success this season, but at least this should afford him a few extra chances to show that he can score in any match.
Perhaps the best sign, though, was the performance of Ivan Strinic. The Croatian left back made his first start of the season on Thursday and played in just his second match overall, but was excellent playing in relief of Faouzi Ghoulam. Considering that Ghoulam has looked a bit run-down of late, getting Strinic up to speed and playing well could prove vital, and hopefully now Sarri will trust him to play a bit more often so that Ghoulam doesn't get beat down by too large a work load.
With Napoli in desperate need to get more of their squad involved to keep their momentum going, Thursday's match was worth so much more than just the 5-0 win and locking up Europa League advancement. Having their backups look so strong in a performance that good is an excellent sign that yes, Napoli do have the depth they need to stay competitive on multiple fronts. There are a couple of spots that could use a little more depth -- Marek Hamsik needs a proper backup desperately -- but on a whole, things are very, very encouraging on the bench right now.