Napoli travel to Rome to take on third-placed Lazio on Saturday. Here's what Walter Mazzarri should do to ensure his side remains well within the scudetto race.
Oh Special Mister, you're still beloved by Napoli. It would be difficult for the supporters to start calling for your head when the partenopei are sitting second, three points behind Juventus. But the fact remains that there are still some changes that could be made to your approach. So, Walter Mazzarri, pour yourself a whisky, take a drag from your cigarette, and listen to me tell you how this match against Lazio should go.
Try a back four. Just once.
Yes, most of Serie A now uses a back three, but that doesn't mean it's always the ideal tactic for big matches. Particularly since you're so welded to Paolo Cannavaro, Hugo Campagnaro and Alessandro Gamberini at the back. Granted, Gamberini is an upgrade on Salvatore Aronica, but a wooden post would serve that function. And as much as Cannavaro believes he should be a national team regular, the reality is that he's become more of a liability to Napoli over the last few months.
Watching the Napoli back line can bring on the terror sweats. I know you know this, Mister, because I see you pacing the touchline, removing your jacket, and ripping up the grass. Perhaps it would be better for everyone's health if the partenopei could just try something different, just for one match.
How does this sound? Let's take the new boy, Rolando, and put him in the back, alongside Hugo Campagnaro, the best of Napoli's current back three. Then put Pablo Armero on the left and Giandomenico Mesto on the right -- particularly if Christian Maggio is still out injured. Put three men in the midfield. If Maggio is healthy, put him and Camilo Zuniga around Gokhan Inler. If not, put Valon Behrami in and have more of the attack funneled up the left.
Give youth a chance
When was the last time Goran Pandev scored a goal? October 7, against Udinese. When was the last time Lorenzo Insigne scored? January 13, against Palermo. The last time he got a start? December 22, for the win over Siena. Goals may not be everything, but if you're playing a front two, that second forward shouldn't just be running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Edinson Cavani may be close to a god, but he still needs a bit of help sometimes.
Your policy towards youth is slightly frightening. Edu Vargas more or less demanded a transfer because you wouldn't play him even when there were no other forwards available. Now that promising young international is on loan at Grêmio. We don't want the same thing to happen to new boy Josip Radosevic. I'm not saying throw the 18-year-old into the starting XI. But show him what's possible.
Give Insigne the chance to start up front with El Matador. He's pacy, he's tricky, and he'll trouble the Lazio back line. He shouldn't be sitting on the bench, waiting for the chance to be a game-changer. He should be in from the beginning, wearying the defense.
Marek Hamsik needs free reign
Edy may have the flash, Inler the muscle, but Marek is the brains of this squad, and he needs to be the one calling the shots. While the Slovak has faced criticism in recent seasons for not living up to his potential, those paying attention to the partenopei know he's the true driving force on the side.
And for the most part, Walter, you've done well with Hamsik. With Ezequiel Lavezzi gone, you've pulled Hamsik back to a deeper role, where he's more able to orchestrate play. From there, he's been able to assist in eleven goals and score nine of his own -- much better numbers than last season. He's played in every Serie A match this season and the side hasn't lost when Hamsik has been involved in a goal.
Hamsik has sharpened his focus and with it, his skills. So don't interfere. He is the player on the pitch who knows exactly where he needs to be at every given moment. Step back and let him take charge. Trust Cavani? No, trust in Hamsik. He'll be the one leading Napoli to the top.