Not since 1989/90 has the City of Naples had a top-flight title victory to celebrate and despite playing some of their best football in years over the last couple of seasons, they have, as yet, been unable to topple the dominant force that is Juventus. The Turin-based side have won the last six consecutive Serie A titles but could this be about to change?
Napoli fans were, quite understandably, enraged at the sale of their star player and top scorer Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus for a club record £75 million last season, but that sale brought in some much-needed funds that has allowed manager Maurizio Sarri to reinforce an already talented squad. This season has seen Napoli make a fast start and after eleven rounds of fixtures they were sitting top of the Serie A table, two points clear of Inter Milan in second and three points clear of Juventus in third.
Sarri has transformed the club and has them playing some of the most attractive football in Europe and despite the loss of several key strikers over the last few years, they have always been able to find a replacement. Step forward Dries Mertens. The Belgian winger has been in irresistible form so far this season and has already scored ten goals in his first 11 matches, leading to bookmakers giving him 6/1 odds of capturing the Serie A top-scoring title.
Such is Napoli’s good start that some bookmakers have them down as evens to win the title, with Inter at 12/1 and Juventus at 5/4 in Serie A betting markets. If Napoli can continue this amazing form then Sarri and his squad would become heroes in the City and would go a long way to healing some of the wounds left by the club’s 2002 bankruptcy and demise.
It has been a long road back to the pinnacle of Italian football for the Partenopei and you can already sense an air of excitement building in the city with the start the team have made this season. It is likely that Juventus will remain as consistent as always and push Napoli all the way again and it is not surprising when you look at the talent that Juve have at their disposal, but Sarri is a shrewd operator and has already proven just how well he can do with the underdog status.
When you consider his achievements at Tuscan minnows Empoli, a side that Sarri won promotion to the top flight with in 2014 and then, against all the odds, kept them up by eventually finishing 15th, you can see him thriving under pressure. He has utilised the system that did so well for him at Empoli since taking over from Rafa Benitez in Naples and uses the attacking talents of Mertens, Callejon and Insigne to devastating effect. Club captain Marek Hamsik has also been brilliant under Sarri and stepped up his game, finishing last season with 12 goals in the league.
In Sarri’s two seasons at Napoli the club have finished second and third, the question now is whether he can take them to that next level and give the City of Naples their first Champions in 28 years? No matter what happens you know that the hopes and prayers of thousands of Neapolitans go with him.