While other parts of the field may have seen more action in terms of raw numbers of players in and out, the changes Napoli made in defense might be the ones that are the most important for them this season. A year ago, Napoli’s defense wasn’t deep, and it was even shorter when it comes to tactical options. Now, though, they’ve got depth to spare and choices to make when it comes to responding to matchups. It’s a great position to be in, and one that Napoli fans should definitely come to enjoy soon.
This includes all incoming and outgoing moves, including expired loans in either direction.
In: Nikola Maksimovic (center back/fullback), Lorenzo Tonelli (center back), Igor Lasicki (center back, loan return), Luigi Sepe (goalkeeper, loan return)
Out: Camilo Zuniga (fullback), Vasco Regini (fullback/centerback), Sebastiano Luperto (centerback, loan), Gabriel (goalkeeper)
At the start of the summer, this was Napoli’s depth chart in defense:
LB: Faouzi Ghoulam, Ivan Strinic, Vasco Regini
LCB: Kalidou Koulibaly, Vlad Chiriches, Vasco Regini
RCB: Raul Albiol, Vlad Chiriches, Sebastiano Luperto
RB: Elseid Hysaj, Christian Maggio
GK: Pepe Reina, Gabriel, Rafael Cabral
And now, after their summer transfer window:
LB: Faouzi Ghoulam, Ivan Strinic, Nikola Maksimovic
LCB: Kalidou Koulibaly, Vlad Chiriches, Lorenzo Tonelli
RCB: Raul Albiol, Nikola Maksimovic, Lorenzo Tonelli
RB: Elseid Hysaj, Nikola Maksimovic, Christian Maggio
GK: Pepe Reina, Luigi Sepe, Rafael Cabral
While the starters are the same, the impact on the depth is massive. No longer are Napoli solely reliant on Chiriches for depth in the center of defense – in fact, he’s been pushed down pretty far in the order of importance. The arrival of Maksimovic gives Napoli a clear three-man rotation at center back with him swapping spots with Koulibaly and Albiol as needed, likely taking the place of Albiol more often. How Tonelli fits into the rotation is uncertain for now – he’s got the talent to be of big help for Napoli, but he’s injured right now and looks like he won’t be back for a fairly long stretch.
Importantly, though, Maksimovic can play both fullback spots if needed as well, which is important for Napoli as their only bonafide right back behind Hysaj is the aging and rapidly declining Maggio. Chiriches can figure into that spot as well, having played very well on the right for Tottenham before joining Napoli a year ago, but there’s been no indication yet that Sarri plans on using him there.
In goal is where the major questions lie. Reina is, unfortunately, declining at this point in his career. We can’t ignore that any longer. However, Napoli failed to acquire a goalkeeper who can push him for playing time, meaning that Sepe will have to step up his game in training. The young keeper starred under Sarri at Empoli two years ago, so we know Napoli’s manager can get good things from him, but his loan spell with Fiorentina a year ago was such a disaster that it’s soured his stock significantly. If he can get back to his best, he can be a big asset for Napoli – but if not, they have to sign a goalkeeper in January to be safe.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about this summer’s action in defense. Things in goal aren’t as steady as we might like, but Napoli got an excellent and versatile piece in Maksimovic who make the defense better by potentially replacing Albiol in the near future and greatly improving their depth even if he does not. Tonelli is a bit of a wild card because of his injury – if he comes back strong, he’ll make their depth even stronger, and might even open up some intriguing defensive options for the partenopei.