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Deconstructing Napoli’s terrible Serie A title defence

With just one major top-flight league in action this weekend, this is a good opportunity to focus on what has been happening in Serie A.

At the top of the table, Inter Milan and Juventus are battling it out in what promises to be a tense title race. However, it is a different story for defending champions Napoli.

They are ninth in the standings and on course to repeat the miserable title defence they produced in finishing eighth after winning the league in 1990.

One of the biggest reasons back then was the suspension of Diego Maradona. They have suffered from the loss of some key players this rime around, but there has been a much bigger issue at play.

Coaching Changes

By far the biggest personnel change over the summer at Napoli was the departure of Luciano Spalletti.

The Italian tactician had an invaluable role to play in their title charge but decided to leave on a high at the end of the season.

Had the club had their own way, they would definitely have wanted to keep him, but their job then was to appoint a suitable successor.

There were a good few options on the market, but they ended up going with Rudi Garcia. The move raised eyebrows initially as the Frenchman had been sacked from Al-Nassr in his last job, but he had done decently in a couple of previous jobs in Europe.

In fairness to Garcia, his approach to the job was sensible enough. He simply kept things as they were and stuck to the 4-3-3 formation, not even changing any of the player roles to a great extent.

The team did look a little less cohesive, but they were not too bad and were rather hard done by some of the results, as well as the fact that some of their key players were missing for long spells.

When Garcia was sacked after Matchday 12, Napoli were ten points off the top in fourth place. Their underlying numbers were not bad, so there was an argument to be made against the decision.

Things have certainly taken a turn for the worse after they hired Walter Mazzarri, as their underlying numbers have drastically dropped off while results have obviously not gotten better.

The ex-Cagliari coach has also changed the team’s style of play in some ways, although that has clearly backfired.

Suffice it to say, Napoli’s decisions as far as head coaches are concerned have been well off the mark. This is the biggest reason behind their failing title defence, but there is another factor we must consider.

Key Player Absences

As good as Napoli were last season, they had a few limitations that might have raised concerns for the future. Above all, their reliance on certain individuals suggested that they were susceptible to struggling if they got injured, left to join another club or fell out of form.

Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia registered 52 goal contributions between them in the league, while just one of their teammates broke into double digits – Piotr Zieliński with 11.

This season, the Nigerian international has already missed numerous matches and will be away for another month at the Africa Cup of Nations. Kvaratskhelia has struggled in the absence of his strike partner.

Kim Min-jae started 35 of Napoli’s 38 matches and was a really rock-solid presence in defence. His departure to Bayern Munich is a big factor behind the massive drop-off in the Neapolitans’ defensive numbers, as their xGA figure per match has gone from 0.83 last season to 1.24 at the halfway stage of the current campaign.

Napoli’s squad building and recruitment might have to take some blame for their current struggles. However, they do not have the financial capacity to have equally capable back-ups or replacements for Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia and Min-jae.

The responsibility falls on the head coach to field as good a team as the squad allows, which is not happening at Napoli at the moment.

Stats courtesy Opta via Fbref.

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