The Europa League is almost here, with Napoli's first match just over two weeks away when Sparta Prague come to to San Paolo on September 18th. That means it's time for Napoli to register the squad of players they'll be using in their matches against Sparta, BSC Young Boys, and Slovan Bratislava, and today they did just that.
Goalkeepers: Rafael Cabral, Mariano Andujar
Defenders: Christian Maggio, Henrique Buss, Miguel Britos, Camilo Zuniga, Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam, Raul Albiol, Giandomenico Mesto
Midfielders: Jonathan De Guzman, Jorginho, David Lopez, Walter Gargano, Gokhan Inler, Dries Mertens, Marek Hamsik, Michu
Forwards: Jose Callejon, Gonzalo Higuain, Lorenzo Insigne, Duvan Zapata
There's no real surprises on the list. Even if Rafa intends to run out a B team for their matches, he still has to register a fairly full-strength squad in case of injuries or need for impact subs and the like. There's also appearances to keep up, as well as a degree of "future proofing", if you will, as there are limitations to how many changes can be made to the squad between rounds.
All four of Napoli's summer signings made the squad, including new boy David Lopez and debut hero Jonathan De Guzman. Both should figure prominently in Napoli's Europa matches, as should fellow new signing Michu.
Other lesser-used players who should be in heavy rotation include backup goalkeeper Mariano Andujar, who will likely start every match, Henrique Buss, who has yet to appear in any of Napoli's competitive matches this season, and Giandomenico Mesto, who we've barely seen since his knee injury ten months ago.
We should also see plenty of Duvan Zapata, who figures to be given a chance to lead Napoli's line in most, or hopefully all, of these six matches. The Colombian was subject to departure rumors off and on all summer, but Zapata elected to stay and fight to prove his worth. We saw at times last season that Zapata's physical presence up top coupled with his natural athletic talents can make him a real handful to deal with and a dangerous striker, but we also saw at times that he's still a very young, raw, and developing striker who needs to better refine his talents, especially his touch and decision-making, and get more consistent all around.
This is a good squad that, even if mostly the second-tier players are used, should be able to come out on top of the group without too much issue. Surprises always happen, but as long as things like focus and effort don't wane, Napoli have the talent to go clean through the group. It'll be interesting to see what combinations of players and roles are used by Rafa in these ties, and how effectively they work. Fingers are crossed and hopes are raised.