Well, I’ve now reached the end of the first season with Napoli, a season that has taken me a long time to get through because of choosing to write about other saves before finally deciding this was too much of a challenge not to write about. So, it’s time to update you all on how the season ended, and cover what’s going to happen in the South of Italy moving forward.
In the first update, I covered the early decisions, or mistakes, that I’d made, particularly the sale of star striker Gonzalo Higuain and the signing of various talented players such as Carlos Vela, Ezequiel Munoz and Gabriel Barbosa, some that have worked out, and some that have not. However, I’ll cover that later in the update, when I outline my plans for the coming second season, and plan how I’m going to mould the squad moving forward. One thing I will discuss now is why I decided to sell Higuain and signed Vela, as my good friend and FM YouTuber @StatisticalApp identified I hadn’t really covered this in the first post.
The theory behind it was that I was committing to the 4-3-3 formation (as you’ve seen that I have stuck to all season, albeit with many, many tweaks), and I wanted a striker that dropped deep to create space for the wide players to exploit. In this role, I wanted more of a ‘Messi-type’ player in this role, that was creative and diminutive, that could drop deep and pass or dribble. Higuain just isn’t that type of player. He’s a fantastic striker and can drop off the front line, but I just didn’t feel that he’d give me what I wanted. I wanted more of a False 9 than a Deep-Lying Forward. In theory, Vela should have been fantastic, but as you know from the last update, this really hasn’t been the case.
In future posts or articles, if I miss out any information that you wish to ask me, please always feel free to ask me, you can always contact me via the usual channels on this blog or via Twitter. Anyway, moving back to matters with Napoli, how did we finish in Serie A, the only tournament we were still involved in?
Well, we retained our position in Serie A and finished the season in 2nd place, securing Champions League football next season. The 6 point gap to Inter somewhat belies how comfortably we finished 2nd, as it was only a 3 point gap going into the final day, and Inter lost to Udinese, and we put on one of our best performances at the San Siro against Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan (yes, he’s returned), leaving Milan with a 2-0 win.
Just look at Juve though. Unbeaten all season. I’ve never seen an AI managed side do that (that I can remember) in all my time playing Football Manager. They were so much better than everyone else in the league (including us) that it wasn’t even fair. We did far better in our second league game against them, only losing 2-0, but the sheer gulf in quality (in Dybala alone) was evident. Cuadrado can be terrifying on the wing, and defensively, they’re rock solid. A 19 point gap from Juve in first to us in second is absolutely huge, and undoubtedly reflects the difference in quality this season.
I don’t actually feel our season has been that bad really, it just looks it in comparison to Juve’s unbeaten season. Juve are unlikely to do that next year, and with some improvements and tactical developments, we’ll be much closer to them next year. Those I’ve spoken to who have played in Italy this year have told me similar things happened in their first season, so it’s now down to me to claw back the 19 point difference in quality.
I usually do a top players of the season, but with the way this season has gone, I don’t really feel it’s fitting to select a top 3. As harsh as it might seem, no player has been consistently fantastic for the whole season like Ayoze Perez was in my Newcastle save. The only player I could really say has been consistently good all the way through the season is club captain Marek Hamsik. At the age of 28, he shows no sign of declining, and I’ve rewarded him with a new contract until 2020. As much as I want to take Napoli back to the pinnacle of Serie A, I’d really like to do it with Hamsik leading the team – and indeed, the midfield.
However, it really is time to let this season go, and move on and look forward to next season. Tactically, I intend to stick with the 4-3-3 formation. I spent so much of the season tweaking it and working on it to get it right, that I feel quite attached to it, and the save wouldn’t have quite the same draw for me now if I moved away from it and perhaps to a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-1-4-1.
Moving forward though, I have some big decisions to make regarding the first team, especially the front 3. Gabigol proved throughout the latter part of the season that he was going to be a key part of this team in future years, managing to win the Serie A Young Player of the Year award despite only arriving in January. Although his improvement in form has yet to show in his ‘goals scored’ column, his performances from the inside forward role on the right have been absolutely fantastic, and out of the 3, his position is the most secure.
Insigne’s however, is a little more shaky. He’s averaged a solid 7.41 for the season, and is our top scorer with 14 goals, however he’s hardly been consistent in scoring those 14. I felt he would be lethal in the IF-A role from the left wing, cutting in on his strong foot, but he was so inconsistent there that I have been playing him upfront over the last few games of the season, and his performances have been better there. He was also voted as Serie A’s midfielder of the year above Paul Pogba, which astounds me quite frankly as I don’t believe he’s been anywhere near that good.
The main issue is Carlos Vela. I signed Vela in the first transfer window for £28.5M, and as a result, I really wanted to make this transfer work. He was effective – in terms of rating – when I used him on the right as an AP-S, but he wasn’t making a noticeable difference to games like Barbosa does on that flank. I’ve tried to make it work with Vela upfront, but despite him (for me) suiting the False 9 role perfectly, he just doesn’t seem to be able to affect games there in the way I would like him to. Furthermore, his last few performances this season were not good, with a 7.0 being his best performance. When that is compared to Barbosa – who was causing havoc from the right – and Insigne – who was scoring goals from the F9 role – it doesn’t provide me with a lot of confidence in Vela. He averaged 7.24 for the season, but I really do feel that this is a bit of a lie. I would be sorely tempted to cash in on Vela and bring in a replacement such as Domenico Berardi, but I’m not getting a lot of interest in Vela when I’m throwing price tags around the market. I would rather not make a loss on Vela, but if that loss still allows me to bring in Berardi, it will be worth it in the long run. I also have to consider the future of Manolo Gabbiadini, who was our top scorer for a while, but doesn’t fit our possession focused style of play with his love of shooting from distance. If I can, I’ll cash in here.
Defensively, I also feel we can improve. Balanta’s performances improved throughout the season, and he ended the season with a 7.09 rating, not fantastic, but certainly our best. January signing Ezequiel Munoz ended the season with a 7.00 rating, but his last few games were rated at 6.92, well below what I was expecting. Albiol hasn’t averaged above 7.00 for the entire season, and with him now breaking the 30 year old mark, I’m strongly considering selling him and bringing in another centre back, hopefully one that will perform well next to Balanta. Ideally, I’d like Munoz to push on next season and retain his position in the starting lineup, but I can’t be certain of that.
The next update is certainly going to be a big one for the future of this save. I’m going to cover the Summer transfer window, and the decisions I’ve made, as well as some early results. Hopefully I can improve the side through the Summer, and challenge for the Scudetto next season as well as doing well in Europe. Until then, thank you very much for reading, and if you have any questions regarding this save, or Football Manager in general, please feel free to ask via the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again. FORZA NAPOLI!