Season ReflectionsBy: Neil | March 26th, 2013
With an international break interrupting Serie A, I thought I’d offer some reflections on the season so far. It’s not yet over, but enough has happened that we can look at the bigger picture a little bit. Thus far Napoli has competed in 3 competitions: Serie A, Europa League, and Coppa Italia. Only one of these, Serie A, can be considered a success. More after the jump.
Serie A is easy to analyze thus far: Napoli has been great, and a 2nd place finish would be an ideal season for most fans. There is one caution though: nobody would suggest Napoli is playing their best calcio of the season right now. On the other hand, teams like Milan and Fiorentina are winning with regularity and most neutrals have AC Milan surging past Napoli to end the season. So it has been great for the first 2/3, but the conlcusion might change the verdict a little.
The Coppa Italia is also easy to analyze; Napoli lost at the first hurdle, at home, to a team in the bottom half of the standings. (I believe Bologna was about 15th or 16th at the time.) This is disappointing. Sure, the game was close and went into extra time but Napoli should really be winning these matches, especially as defending champions.
The Europa League is more difficult to analyze. It can be split into two parts: the group stage, and the elimination round. The group stage was pretty neutral. Yes, Napoli qualified for the next round. But they looked sick in both games against PSV and one against Dnipro. Their 3 wins came thanks to the combination of Edinson Cavani scoring a bag of goals and feasting on the group minnows in Swedish side AIK. Napoli simply met basic expectations by finishing runners up in the group.
The elimination round was a disaster. No disrespect to Viktoria Plzen who played two great games, but a 5-0 aggregate score is completely embarrassing. After the 2nd leg in which the humiliation was complete, pictures of Viktoria’s 36 year old captain make the rounds showing a bit of a beer belly. The player in question, Pavel Horvat, wold not be fit enough to make the current Napoli squad. Mazzarri evidently had better athletes to work with and yet the Viktoria players exectued much better.
So the Europa League was disappointing as well. Napoli won 3 matches and lost 5, and the 3 wins were the bare minimum to avoid exiting at the group stage. The goals conceded were alarming as well: in the 6 matches against Dnipro, PSV, and Viktoria, Napoli allowed 16 goals, an average of more than 2.5 goals per game.
In summary, Mazzarri simply hasn’t made a case that he can grow the team. He’s now in his 3rd complete season, and while he does consistently well in Serie A, he has shown that he struggles to balance multiple competitions. In the one season Napoli did well in the cup competitions (Champions League round of 16 and Coppa Italia win) the Serie A form suffered noticeably.
I’m ready for a new project next year, although I’d obviously like to keep Cavani and most of the players. But it’s time for some new tactics: Mazzarri has taken his 3-4-1-2 as far as it will go, and he can keep buying newer and more expensive players but he can only get so far before his tricks are figured out. And with 2 of 3 competitions this year ending in disappointment, he may not have any high cards left to throw on the table. Let’s hope for a strong ending to Serie A or else there will be plenty of changes over the summer.