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Loss of faith in Gabbiadini sparks Napoli striker search

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With little trust left in Manolo Gabbiadini and no one knowing when Arek Milik will be back up to speed, Napoli need another striker in January.

Italy Training Session And Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Napoli have been in bad shape at striker ever since Arkadiusz Milik tore his ACL playing for Poland a month ago. Manolo Gabbiadini has been in horrendous form when called upon, and while Dries Mertens has had good moments filling in as an emergency false nine, it’s also very clear that he’s not a natural striker. So with Milik on an uncertain time table and likely needing a lot of time even after he’s healthy to get all the way up to speed again, Napoli are looking to the transfer market in January to reinforce the position, though an uncertain market might prove challenging for them to help themselves in.

A lot of the recent speculation has linked Napoli to Simone Zaza, who has spent just a few months in England after moving to West Ham this past summer — a few very disastrous months in which he has yet to score a single goal for his new team. While he’s far from alone in struggling at the 17th-place club right now, apparently the Hammers are considering jettisoning Zaza already, and Napoli would consider renewing their interest in the ex-Juventus striker from the summer — or so say the rumor mongers.

Zaza himself, though, has recently said that he’d much prefer to stay put and fight things out, believing it would be a personal “failure” to leave now. To be bluntly honest, unless West Ham are willing to cut one hell of a deal, Napoli should consider someone else anyways, as Zaza has never been as good as his reputation and doesn’t seem like a great fit tactically for Napoli even if he was playing well.

Outside of Zaza, the rumors have been a bit of a mixed bag. There were some vague links to Lazio semi-outcast Keita Balde, but that would have been tough to pull off and has been scuppered by his agent anyways. A few fringier Serie A forwards have been mooted, but no one exciting or even particularly helpful.

The most likely scenario put forward of late has been one that would see Napoli recall Duvan Zapata from his loan to Udinese, then send Gabbiadini in his place for the remainder of the season with an eye towards rebuilding his sale value for the summer. While Zapata isn’t a perfect fit to replace Milik, his power and athleticism up top would be a big boon to Napoli given their recent struggles, and he’s been in decent goalscoring form as well with four goals in twelve matches. It might be hard to convince Udinese to take Gabbiadini, but they’d likely rather have him than the other options they’ve been considering.

One option that hasn’t been mentioned in the rumor rags that Napoli could consider — and to be clear, this is not a transfer rumor, just speculation over a potentially available player — is Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi. The English club brought in the Belgian forward for a huge transfer fee this summer, but Antonio Conte has barely utilized the 23 year old this season, with almost all of his less than 300 minutes on the pitch this season coming in the League Cup. They are supposedly considering loaning him out this January, and if they do Napoli should be more than interested in bringing Batshuayi in.

The Belgian international has a solid profile as a striker that, if you look at how he plays, will be very familiar -- when you watch the runs he takes and the way he moves off the ball and looks to get involved, he’s very reminiscent of a pacier version of Arek Milik. That would, in theory, allow him to blend into Napoli’s side fairly quickly, as the loss of that style is a big part of what’s held them back of late.

Now, getting Batshuayi would be fair from guaranteed even if he is made available — West Ham among other teams are supposedly interested — so Napoli need to develop a list of potential options. The Zapata-for-Gabbiadini loan swap should be a given no matter what just for the sake of depth, but one other player who can help carry the load should Milik be in less than ideal health and form for longer than feared would be a very good idea for Napoli to bring in.

Most of the names the media has mentioned so far have been far from interesting or even particularly good enough, but we’re still more than a month and a half away from the window even opening — there’s going to be plenty of time for names to shake out between now and then.