Serie A thoughts, part 6. Napoli, Novara & Palermo.
In south Italy, President Aurelio DeLaurentiis, sporting director Riccardo Bigon and coach Walter Mazzari have an interesting ongoing project. Last years third-place finish was an impressive achievement and hopefully an indication of what we can expect from Napoli in the years to come.
This year will be an even bigger test. Fans will expect them to repeat what they did last season. Looking at their investments this summer one might even expect them to improve from last seasons 3rd place-finish. Napoli are one of the teams that have spent most during the mercato so fans will have huge expectations on the team this season. Though, this year will be different when opponents will be more aware of their quality and what to expect from them. The approaching Champions League football at San Paolo will be another great challenge for Napoli but they should be aware that throughout the years, many teams has struggled to combine Champions league football with playing in Serie A.
Coach Walter Mazzari will do his third consecutive season on the bench for Napoli and the Tuscany based tactician will continue to work with 3-4-3, the system that proved to be so successful last season.
Looking at the mercato, most notable players to leave the Napoli-camp is Michele Pazienza who have signed for Juventus after his contract expired. Defender Fabiano Santacroce have signed for Parma while midfielders José Sosa has left for Metalist in Ukraine and Hasan Yebda has signed for Granada in Spain.
A lot of players have been signed, and the squad definitely look stronger than last season. Both Mario Santana and Marco Donadel have been signed from Fiorentina after their contracts had expired. Both of them will add depth to the squad and give Mazzari more options. Gökhan Inler finally signed for Napoli from Udinese after a lot of speculation and will likely be one of the first players Mazzari puts down on the team sheet. Along with him, midfielder Blerim Dzemaili haven joined from Parma. The defence have been strengthened with the signings of Manuel Britos from Bologna and Federico Fernández from Estudiantes.
Questions will be asked if Mazzari’s 3-man defence will work against the best teams in Europe. Last week they were trashed 5-0 against Barcelona in the Trofeu Johan Gamper. Napoli fans will also hope that the fantastic trio from last season, Lavezzi-Cavani-Hamisk, will lead the Napoli attack in pursuit of glory.
Now that Italy only have three Champions league spots (have lost on spot to Germany), qualifying for CL will be a tough task for Napoli. Not impossible, but while competing in both Italy and Europe this season, a Europa league spot is more likely.
After an absence of 55 years, the north-Italian club is finally back in Serie A. 2009/10 they won the Lega Pro Prima divisione and last year they gained promotion to Serie A after beating Padova in the Serie B playoff.
Club is still owned by the De Salvo family and the biggest difference from last season is that sporting director Pasquale Sensible is replaced by Mauro Pederzoli. The former played a major part in Novara’s recent promotions but now he’s joined newly relegated Sampdoria in Serie B. Mauro Pederzoli will be the man replacing Sensible and he arrives from Milan’s organisation.
Coach Attilio Tesser have guided the team through Lega Pro and Serie B but now stands before his biggest challenge yet, to save Novara from relegation. He doesn’t have the best squad around, but some interesting signings have been made. Novara, along with Cesena will be the only teams with synthetic pitch, hence some teams will possibly encounter some problems at Stadio Silvio Piola.
The attacking duo of Cristian Bertani(Sampdoria) and Pablo Andrés González(Palermo) have both left the club and will be missed. They produced a major part of Novara’s goals last season.
Novara will try to replace the duo of Bertani/González with Takayuki Morimoto(Catania), Pablo Granoche(Chievo), Jeda(Lecce) and Riccardo Meggorini(Bologna). Young promising midfielder Andrea Mazzarani have joined on loan from Udinese after having a good loan-spell with Modena last season. Defenders Massiomo Paci and Pablo Hernán Dellafiore have arrived from Parma and will add much needed Serie A experience to the defence.
A player to watch this season is goalkeeper Samir Ujkani, who has been great in goal for Novara. The Albanian international is co-owned by Palermo and should be vital for Novara’s defence this season.
President Massimo De Salvo has shown that he has a long term vision for the club by building Novarello, a high-tech training ground. During the summer they have reconstructed their arena that now will host nearly 18.000. Add to that their synthetic pitch and one can understand why Novara is such an interesting project.
Surely, it will be a difficult year for Novara. Playing Milan and Juventus is not like playing Crotone or Cittadella. But with the synthetic pitch at Stadio Silvio Piola playing a part and if one of the strikers can step up and score around 10 goals, then maybe Novara can avoid relegation.
Palermo didn’t exactly get the start of the season they wanted after they surprisingly were knocked out of Europa league against Swiss side FC Thun. Absolutely not the start new coach Stefano Pioli wanted, after having joined Palermo this summer, arriving from Chievo.
Last year Palermo finished in 8th place but they did reach the final of Coppa Italia, where they lost to Inter. Through that, they got their place in the Europa league.
President Mauro Zamparini still owns the club, even though he lately has threatened to sell the club. New sporting director is Sean Sogliano who have replaced Walter Sabatini. Sogiano signed for Palermo after having made a remarkable job with Varese and it will be interesting to see what he can do in an bigger club.
Palermo have been really busy during the summer. Wonderkid Javier Pastore finally signed for PSG after lots of rumours throughout the summer linking him with top-clubs around Europe. Goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu joined him and also signed a contract with PSG. Cesare Bovo have joined Genoa while defender Mattia Cassani recently joined Fiorentina. Other players that have left are Andrea Raggi(Bologna), Moris Carrozzieri(Atalanta), Dorin Goian(Glasgow Rangers), Pajtim Kasami(Fulham) and David Lanzafame(Catania).
Sogliano and Pioli have made some key aquisations in the defence with the signings of Matia Silvestri from rivals Catania and Andrea Mantovani from Chievo. Other players in are Mauro Cetto (Toulouse), Eros Pisano(Varese), Carlos Labrin(Huachipato) and Ádám Simon(Szombathelyi Haladás). Striker Pablo Gonzalez was bought earlier this year but stayed the season and played a big part in Novara winning promotion from Serie B.
The most interesting signing together with Matia Silvestri is Erhan Zahavi from Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel. Playing as an attacking midfielder, Zahavi has the potential to be of the most interesting players in Serie A this season.
The Rosanero fans will hope that 23 year old Slovenian midfielder Josip Iličić continues where he left off last season. 8 goals in 34 games in his first Serie A season made a lot of clubs looking closer at him, but he opted to stay at Palermo and have recently signed a new 5 year contract. If he can continue to develop and deliver like he did last season, the loss of Pastore won’t be as big as many have expected.
The attack with captain Fabrizio Miccoli, Abel Hernandez, Mauricio Pinilla and Pablo Gonzlez, backed by Iličić and Zahavi looks interesting and is by far high Serie A standard. But the biggest challenge for new coach Stefano Pioli is to get that defence to work. If so, Palermo will look for a better position than last years 8th.
The biggest question is what happens if things start to go bad and the team looses a couple of games. How much patience has president Zamparini? How soon will he fire Pioli? And what about Sogliano?
Grande Zamparini. Can’t wait for Serie A to start.