What do Napoli need to do this summer?

Paolo Bruno

The arrival of Rafael Benítez at Napoli next season will mark a significant tactical change, though one they're more prepared for than you might expect.

Even before Walter Mazzarri took charge of Napoli, the Partenopei were associated with a three-man defence. The formation has totally dominated at the San Paolo ever since they returned to Serie A under Edy Reja in 2007, meaning the almost-certain departure to a back four under new coach Rafael Benítez will be a fundamental tactical alteration.

Napoli's supposed transfer market interventions hint that they're setting up for the change to a 4-2-3-1, though a look at their squad would suggest that it might not be as difficult a transition as it could've been after a decade spent moulding a team around one shape. There's a couple of problem areas, but for the most part, Napoli have a team capable of adapting.

The most obvious tactical adjustment will come in the defence, where one of the centre-backs will be dropped and the wing-backs will be pulled into a back four. For left-back Pablo Armero -- whose loan deal from Udinese looks set to be made permanent -- playing deeper shouldn't be a problem, often partnering his domestic teammate Juan Zúñiga in a full-back pairing on international duty with Colombia.

Likewise, Napoli have plenty of good centre-backs to go around. Paolo Cannavaro hasn't played in a back four regularly for seven years, but adapting shouldn't be too big a problem, while both Alessandro Gamberini and Miguel Britos are adequate defenders. Now that the notoriously youth-averse Mazzarri has left, it could even be time for Argentinian international Federico Fernández to stake his claim for a starting spot, having spent 2013 on loan at Getafe after never really getting a look-in at the San Paolo.

The only real potential defensive weak spot seems to be at right-back, where Christian Maggio has looked defensively dodgy when starting for Italy. That national coach Cesare Prandelli has tended to prefer Ignazio Abate there is telling, only accommodating Maggio at last year's European Championships in games where he opted to play a 3-5-2. Ideally the solid Hugo Campagnaro -- Napoli's best defender over the last couple of seasons -- would be able to fill in on the right, though he's expected to link up with Mazzarri again at Inter Milan upon the expiry of his contract this summer.

In contrast, midfielder Gökhan Inler looks set to stay, despite dropping out of the Partenopei starting 11 towards the end of Mazzarri's tenure. He's the best midfielder in the squad, only falling victim to some freakishly good form from his compatriot Blerim Džemaili over the second half of the season. There have been extremely unlikely links with Javier Mascherano, Lucas Leiva and Marouane Fellaini of late, though Napoli are actually pretty well made in the midfield.

Of the current squad, Inler would be expected to pair up with Valon Behrami in the deeper midfield duo of a 4-2-3-1. They're both fairly similar, all-round players, with Behrami slightly more solid defensively and Inler marginally the better playmaker, in an all-Swiss partnership which worked well in Serie A this season. The more indisciplined Džemaili would likely revert to a position back on the bench, but always offering a useful, more offensive alternative.

Higher up the field Marek Hamšík will relish the thought of continuing as a number ten, having excelled there after being shifted slightly deeper by Mazzarri this season. Assists and goals galore, there are few better playmakers in the world who could slot in just behind the striker so effectively. The real question is over who'll be chosen to flank him.

One of Mazzarri's most frustrating traits was his insistence on playing Goran Pandev, usually before hauling off the ineffectual Macedonian early in a game's second half, replacing him with Lorenzo Insigne. The 22-year-old is one of Italy's most exciting young players around at the moment, currently starring on a position out on the left for Italy's U21 side. Cutting inside onto his stronger right foot, his close control and pace make him a potentially brilliant inside forward. Hopefully he'll be given more starting opportunities.

However, the opposite flank poses further problems. Assuming Pandev won't be a starter, there's a vacancy on the right wing to be filled. Torino's Alessio Cerci and Parma's Jonathan Biabiany (who Benítez worked with at Inter Milan) have both been linked in the last few days, and while it's unlikely either will set Serie A alight, the rumours are indicative of the type of player Napoli are searching for. AS Roma's Erik Lamela would be a much better signing, though president Aurelio De Laurentiis apparently had a combined offer for the Argentine and his teammate Marquinhos turned down.

The final question to be addressed this summer is probably the most boring, even if the most significant: who'll be Napoli's starting striker next season? The annual Edinson Cavani Transfer Fest is in full flow, with the latest rumours suggesting he'll turn down a new contract at the San Paolo in favour of a move to Chelsea -- though you'll find just about every one of the world's best teams have been linked with him at some point. Of biggest concern to Napoli and Benítez is ensuring they've got a contingency plan in place.

There have been some striking rumours regarding any potential Cavani replacements, with Bayern Munich's Mario Gómez the most noteworthy. It's an intriguing suggestion, with the deal making good sense for all parties involved. Whether there's anything in it or not, Napoli need to make sure they've got a deal in place. Sadly they're no longer in Serie C1 and it's not 2005. Emanuele Calaiò just won't cut it.

But, providing they can get their hands on a new striker (especially if Cavani does leave), a winger and ideally a full-back, Napoli will be looking reasonably well set for a change to a 4-2-3-1. Director Riccardo Bigon still has some work to do, though this summer's transfer upheavals needn't be dramatic as they wave a fond, final farewell to their beloved back three.

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