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Now is the time for Manolo Gabbiadini to seize his chance

This is the opportunity the striker has waited all season for.

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

All season long, Napoli fans have been asking "what about Manolo Gabbiadini?" Frankly, Gabbiadini himself has likely been asking the same thing -- the talented Italian striker has hardly featured for Napoli this season despite an incredible introductory half-season a year ago, leaving many frustrated and wondering just what Gabbiadini's future will hold. Well now we can wonder no more, because with Gonzalo Higuain suspended for several matches, Gabbiadini will finally get the run in the first team we've been waiting all season for.

Why hasn't Gabbiadini played, though? A combination of a new manager who infrequently rotates, HIguain's astounding form, and poor forward depth all worked against him -- Maurizio Sarri prefers to go with a fairly set starting lineup, so when combined with Higuain's form and Gabbiadini being the only reserve for Pipita, there weren't many clear chances for him to get into the lineup. There were times that perhaps the Italian international could have started out wide for Jose Callejon, but it seems that Sarri was more comfortable having Gabbiadini as a striker reserve on the bench if needed than Callejon in that spot.

While Gabbiadini did impress in the Europa League when called upon, scoring four goals in his four starts on the continent, he was dreadful in his two combined starts he received in Serie A and the Coppa Italia. The fact that he also struggled off the bench a few times around that same period left him essentially out of the team for a time, limited mostly to mop-up duty at most until recently. He's played just 742 minutes all season long, hardly enough to ever build up much good form for a striker -- but now with Higuain out, all that can change.

We've seen what Gabbiadini can do when given a chance to be a major contributor before. Last season after joining from Sampdoria, Gabbadini scored eight goals in the league in the second half of the season, and he was frequently a massive presence in Napoli's attack. Gabbiadini is still far from a perfect player -- he's just 24 and still developing, after all -- but his finishing and presence on the ball when he's playing well are both excellent, and as long as Napoli can find a way to get him rolling early against Hellas Verona this weekend, we may just see him be able to get back to his best in a hurry.

Once Gonzalo Higuain comes back from his suspension, he'll be the central striker again. That much is guaranteed. But if Gabbiadini can manage to play well during this period, he can force his way into a bigger role in the team -- and that will only be a good thing for Napoli.