In the not-so-distant past, I revealed myself to the world, (no, not like that). I admitted that, while I like football, I don’t support anyone. Apparently, this made me simultaneously gay, a cheating husband and, best of all, a T*T. It also makes me a neutral and, as a neutral, it would appear that it is my duty to love watching Barcelona play. Fortunately, as my poor, unsuspecting wife would tell you if she existed, I don’t do my duty. I don’t watch Barcelona, I watch Napoli.
“But Napoli play in Italy, don’t they?” I hear you ask, “Isn’t Italy just divers, haircuts and defensive football?” Gather round, I’m going to tell you a secret. Serie A is much, much better to watch than you think it is. Not everyone just defends and plays for 1-0 wins. Teams like Roma, Udinese and Palermo have led the attacking revolution on the peninsula but, of late, Napoli have overtaken them all.
The main reason Napoli are so good to watch is their front three. While pundits run out of superlatives for the Pedro-Messi-Villa front line, the Napoli attack offer an intriguingly different take on the same basic idea. The difference is in the execution. Where Barcelona play with Messi through the middle and Villa and Pedro pulling as wide as possible to create space in the centre, Napoli’s attack play much closer together. Edinson Cavani leads the line and is supported by Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik playing as central shadow strikers rather than wingers. This approach creates space in a similar way to that of Barcelona, but it does so without marginalising any of the front men by forcing them out wide. Really, though, it is the front three that are worth watching, not just the space they create.
Take Lavezzi, for example. A diminutive Argentinean, he is bound to be compared to Messi at every turn and the two are in fact similar players. Both possess the same elusive dribbling ability and frightening pace, and both are talismans for their team. Messi, obviously, is central to almost everything Barcelona do thanks to his extraordinary ability to accelerate the game with a pass or run. Lavezzi is also able to speed up play when required; the difference is that he is very rarely required to do so. Everything Napoli do, they do at full speed, so it is direction, not acceleration that Lavezzi brings. His touch to create a goal for Giuseppe Mascara against Parma was a perfect example of the moments of genius he brings to the team.
He is capable of scoring any kind of goal, from towering headers to simple finishes to last minute 30-yard screamers to ridiculous disallowed bicycle kicks, and he is especially capable of scoring 90th minute winners.
Alongside Lavezzi in attack is Marek Hamsik. Arguably the most sought after player in the Napoli squad, he has been coveted by all manner of top clubs around Europe and, to top it all off, he has incredible, incredible hair. Starting from the right side of the front three, Hamsik is given license to roam. His ability to slice a defence in half with a pass means he is most comparable with Andres Iniesta, but his goal scoring record is far, far superior to that of the Barcelona man. His contribution of almost a goal every three games is especially impressive given that he joined the club as a midfielder and was slowly converted into a more attacking player.
Leading the line for Napoli is arguably their most impressive player and the one I look forward to watching most, Edinson Cavani. Cavani is a complete forward, a type of player that, of late, seems to have been dying out. Think Gabriel Batistuta, a striker who excels at every aspect of forward play. Cavani is always a threat, he even looks dangerous when Napoli are defending. He doesn’t walk or run around the pitch, he prowls. He is capable of scoring any kind of goal, from towering headers to simple finishes to match saving 30-yard screamers to ridiculous disallowed bicycle kicks, and he is especially capable of scoring 90th minute winners. His recent hat trick against reigning champions AC Milan at the San Siro was a perfect example of how deadly he can be as he smashed three past a against whom Barcelona could only manage two.
It’s not all about the front three, though. Napoli’s 3-4-3 formation is simply made for attacking, attractive, quick football and relies just as heavily on the work ethic of wing backs Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena, (Yes, you read that right, Andrea Dossena). Maggio, now Italy’s first choice right back, can often be found as his side’s furthest player forward and is always a key contributor in attack and defence. Similarly, Dossena bears no resemblance to the blundering joke of a player that Liverpool shipped out and provides defensive cover, an attacking outlet and tireless running every time he plays.
In midfield, Gokhan Inler was signed in the summer from Udinese and provides the sort of lung busting running, power and tenacity that would make Steven Gerrard jealous. Part of the Switzerland team that beat Spain at the last World Cup, Inler is a true all-action player and one not to be missed. He is backed up by the guile and intelligence of Walter Gargano, a little Uruguayan who is one of the most underrated players in Italy and can tear opposition to shreds with his passing.
They may not be able to compete with Barcelona in terms of silverware, they may have lost heavily when the two sides met in pre season, but I would still much rather watch Napoli. If it’s excitement, energy, enthusiasm and attacking that you’re after, look no further than the San Paolo outfit. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
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