The season has not exactly gone to plan so far for Napoli, and a 2-2 draw at Empoli didn't exactly improve matters any. The same problems we saw in the first two matches were still strongly in evidence, though if you ask Maurizio Sarri, things are looking up.
We have to focus on the positives and these signs of growth. Don’t forget that four months ago at half-time my Empoli was 3-0 up against Napoli here. The Castellani won’t be a walk in the park for anyone.
We made a mistake on the first goal, while the second was an error from the referee. Riccardo Saponara touched the ball with his hand and it was visible from the bench. Everyone saw it. I think only the referee didn’t!
-Translated quote source: Football Italia
OK, let's look at the positives. Lorenzo Insigne rocked. Marek Hamsik looked stronger as the match went on. The late switch to the 4-3-3 actually seemed to kinda work, even if it failed to create a goal. That's ... about it.
The defense is still a shambles. Raul Albiol was at least partially at fault on both goals -- while Sarri may be correct in Saponara handling the ball, he never gets a chance to if Albiol does his damn job -- and Christian Maggio was moving at zombie pace for most of the match. And not one of those creepy/cool fast zombies. One of those lame ones that just kind staggers around in circles. The midfield is still not really clicking yet, with Allan seeming shackled for most of the match and Mirko Valdifiori seems to be taking steps back every week.
But, progress, amirite?
Look, we all knew this wasn't going to be a snap-your-fingers-and-they're-good transition. Sarri is a very different manager with a very different system than what Rafa Benitez employed, and between that and a fair bit of squad turnover, this season was always going to have a bit of a slow start.
No one expected it to be this slow, though, or for Napoli to look like they still have so much work left to do just days before their first Europa League match. These three matches -- against Sassuolo, Sampdoria, and Empoli -- were supposed to be a relatively gentle break-in period that turned out to be anything but. Now with matches against Club Brugge, Lazio, and Juventus in the next two weeks, with a midweek match against Carpi thrown in for giggles, Napoli have no more time to iron out their problems.
Hopefully this "progress" that Sarri is seeing becomes actual quality play in a big hurry, or Napoli could be hurting badly before the month is out.