SB Nation's Italy Editor, Kirsten Schlewitz, never pretends to be unbiased. She's a fierce Vesuviana and is upset that her azzurri pedicure likely won't make it until the start of the delayed Serie A season. Follow her on Twitter to see just how crazy a Napoli fan can get.
Napoli in 2010-2011
What a ride for fans of the partenopei. It looked, for awhile at least, that Napoli would be challenging for the scudetto, but failing to beat AC Milan (and Chievo Verona, sigh) meant that the club had to settle for third place. Yet what a season. Whatever you wish to call it, "Napoli Time," "Zona Mazzarri," or "Minutes that take years off your life," came into being last year, with Walter Mazzarri's side being famed for scoring goals in the last five minutes of matches.
The Holy Trinity, lead by Edinson Cavani, were the primary cause of excitement for Napoli last season. The Uruguayan hadn't lived up to expectations at Palermo, but leading Mazzarri's 3-4-2-1 in front of Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Cavani managed 26 goals in Serie A alone, and could have beaten Antonio Di Natale to the Capocannoniere title if he hadn't managed to pick up a silly suspension for the last two matches.
Goal of Last Season
Just one? Not for crazy Napoli. First, a look at Lavezzi scoring a goal from his...well, from the ground:
Next, the last goal of Cavani's hat-trick against Juventus, which produced the spectacular did-he-score-that-with-his-HEEL? debate:
Blerim Džemaili: The Swiss midfielder comes courtesy of Parma, to help strengthen the center, Napoli's weakest area last season. He's likely to get the nod over Walter Gargano, but he's not the Swiss that the vesuviani faithful are wetting themselves over.
Miguel Britos: Brought in to both increase depth at the back and insure that Walter Mazzarri doesn't have a heart attack watching Salavatore Aronica attempt defense, the Uruguayan is already hurt, having limped off in the first half of the preseason friendly with Barcelona. It's shocking that Aurelio De Laurentiis hasn't declared war on Catalonia yet.
Gokhan Inler: When the lion was turned around to reveal the number 88, there was no surprise in Naples. Since failing to celebrate while scoring for Udinese at the San Paolo, it was almost inevitable that Inler would join Napoli. Strong, steady, and with an intelligent eye for a pass, he is exactly what was needed to shore up the midfield.
Michele Pazienza: Napoli snagged Gokhan Inler from Udinese. Juventus took Pazienza away. I'm still not quite sure which of these is better. We wish you patience, Juve.
Hassan Yebda: Another midfielder off, this one to Granada in Spain. Yebda was a quality backup but Napoli is clearly aiming for all-Swiss-all-the-time
Jose Sosa: The Argentine went to Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv. That kinda says it all, doesn't it?
What to Expect from 2011-2012
Can Napoli keep the fevered excitement from last season alive? They've managed to hold on to their key players, something most anticipated would not happen, leaving players that often work together seamlessly. The true troubles last year came in linking from defense through central midfield, but with Inler, that weakness should be wiped away. So why can't this Napoli supporter find more faith in the squad? Perhaps it's simply pessimism - on paper, this is a team that should be able to compete for the top spots in Serie A. Not the scudetto, surely, as Milan remains better, but a squad that's certainly stronger than Inter Milan's, particularly after Goran Pandev completes his anticipated transfer to Napoli.
What is certain, though, is that the characters surrounding the club will keep the craziness alive. De Laurentiis will continue to create film scenes out of minor transgressions, accusing the FIGC of favoritism and riding off into the sunset on a scooter. Mazzarri will use his hands to mow the touchline before lapsing back to his nicotine addiction. And the players will probably top their re-creation of scenes from Harry Potter in this year's Napoli calendar. It's nice to know there are some things in life we can count on - even if the start of the Serie A season isn't one of them.
The Trident are the eye-catchers, and with Hamsik and Lavezzi both staying, keeping all three of them together and healthy is absolutely essential to the success of Napoli (in fact, when Hamsik didn't play last season, Napoli never managed a win - a random bit of trivia for you).
But it's not just the top trio that are key to the partenopei pushing onward. Christian Maggio is an absolute beast on the right side, barreling down the wing to provide service to the trinity. Inler is set to be a delight in a midfield used to the likes of Gargano and Pazienza, who often had trouble with such simple concepts as, well, passing.
Finally, there's Mr. Morgan De Sanctis, one of the most overlooked goalkeepers in Italy. Perhaps an argument could be made for Christian Abbiati with Milan, but Holy Keeper has a slightly leakier defense in front of him, and still manages to pull off spectacular saves that have clearly been blessed by the Spirit.
Potential Breakout Star
Napoli isn't a particularly young squad, and although I'm excited to see Victor Ruiz develop in central defense, he's not exactly what one might call a potential "breakout star." I'm putting my money on Hamsik. Recently turned 24, the Slovakian captain (and Napoli vice-captain) is always rumored to be leaving Naples, but he seems to thrive on the insanity of the South. Often underappreciated by those who don't watch him week in, week out (possibly because 11 goals doesn't seem like much from a forward) Hamsik is an absolutely integral piece in the Napoli puzzle. It's his eye that picks out the perfect pass, his brain that knows exactly where Cavani or Lavezzi will be at the moment they'll receive the ball. It's his time to shine.
Sigh. I don't think Napoli will be able to repeat their third place finish, despite having strengthened their squad. They'll take the Champions League much more seriously than Europa last season, which will likely weaken their Serie A performances. Fourth, I'm guessing, and that may be optimistic. But if you're sad, watch this dance!