One of the nagging questions plaguing Napoli fans this summer has been this: how's Marek Hamsik going to perform in the new tactical system?
Hamsik was never quite as good as we know he can be under Rafa Benitez, leading to significant criticism among Napoli fans and neutrals alike. The squad's captain was hurt at times and mysteriously benched at others, which likely didn't help matters much -- but under a new manager who wants to move him deeper in midfield, questions swirled as to how well he'd adapt this time.
According to Hamsik himself, things are going just fine.
My new position? I feel at ease in centre midfield and want to enjoy this role.
It was the last match before the league begins and I’m happy that we’ve finished off our preparation with a win.
We played some good stuff against Latina, I think we’re ready for Serie A to start against Sassuolo and I hope it’s a great match.
-Source: Sport Mediaset, translation via Football Italia
Hamsik has been playing in the more attacking role of the midfield trio, sweeping up behind the trequartista, typically Lorenzo Insigne, and the two forwards to create chances for them and lend additional support in the final third. That's a role he does with aplomb and has looked very good in even with limited minutes, helping Napoli dictate play during stretches of his half on the pitch against Porto, and dominating Latina Calcio on Friday.
The difference would seem to be in how he's asked to set up during the course of open play. Under Sarri, he's facing the goal and can observe the buildup of play as it happens while he moves up the pitch. Under Rafa Benitez, Hamsik has said recently that he was asked mostly to play with his back to goal, holding up play to distribute shorter passes to supporting runners.
That demand takes away a lot of the strengths to Hamsik's game -- his incisive through balls, ability to move on the ball, and incredible creative vision. It also helps explain those mysterious benchings, as in the two or three matches before he started frequently sitting, Hamsik played mostly how he's comfortable, facing goal and running with the ball. Shockingly those were probably his best overall matches of the season, but since Rafa has to have things done his way and no other, Hamsik was punished for it.
Now, though, Hamsik has a manager who uses his players to their strengths, so we should see a reinvigorated and successful Hamsik again. This season could be quite fun for those who have wanted to see the spiky-haired Slovakian at his best, because it might just be coming back once more.