When Luciano Spalletti walked away from Napoli in the summer of 2023 to take up the role of head coach of the Italian national team, most assumed that his successor – Rudi Garcia – would seamlessly slot into the vacant position. The Naples outfit had, of course, just won the first Serie A title in more than 30 years on Spalletti’s watch, so all Garcia had to do was maintain the momentum with a talented and hard-working squad of players.
But that is sometimes easier said than done – a poor start to the campaign sees Napoli fourth in the table and some ten points behind leaders Inter Milan after 12 rounds of games. That has cost Garcia his job. Walter Mazzarri has been installed as interim head coach, which is perhaps a smart move given that he’s enjoyed success at the club in the past. So, can he restore the good times in Naples?
Back to Basics
With the online football betting odds making Napoli a 13/1 chance to retain their Serie A title behind Inter (4/7), Juventus (11/4) and AC Milan (17/2), it feels as though Mazzarri’s best plan is to aim for a top-four finish. The football tips for today have rarely hyped up Napoli’s chances this term – with good reason, given that they’ve won just 50% of their outings and suffered defeats against teams they really ought to be beating. The 0-1 reverse at the hands of Empoli was the final straw as far as the club’s decision-makers were concerned.
Walter Mazzarri is the new coach of Napoli.
Welcome back! pic.twitter.com/2Dj6D0edsb
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) November 14, 2023
Mazzarri has stacks of experience, particularly in Italian football, with his crowning achievements perhaps coming during that first spell with Napoli – the Coppa Italia triumph in 2012 – which led to finishing runner-up in Serie A a season later. These were rare moments of glory for a club that had been devoid of them since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
His tactical style is considered to be rather rudimentary when compared to the tactical stylings of his contemporaries, but isn’t that what Napoli needs right now? With such a talented group of players at his disposal, there really is no need for Mazzarri to reinvent the wheel.
Three is the Magic Number?
For the most part during his two-decade managerial career, Mazzarri has favoured a 3-5-2 system. The advantages and drawbacks of that formation have been well documented on these pages, but the key transition will be implementing that set-up successfully with a team that won a league title just months ago having adopted a 4-3-3 shape.
Curiously, the head honcho at Napoli – Aurelio De Laurentiis – raised eyebrows in the summer when appointing Garcia, a head coach with a less-than-glittering CV in recent times. But the club’s president confirmed he had taken a chance on the Frenchman because he promised to retain the 4-3-3 system that had worked so successfully for Spalletti. The loss of defensive lynchpin Kim Min-jae has also overshadowed Garcia’s time in Naples, so the question now is if – and how – Mazzarri will jettison the 4-3-3 in favour of his own preferred 3-5-2 shape.
Welcome to FC Bayern, Minjae Kim!
김민재!!! FC 바이에른에 온 것을 환영합니다!
— FC Bayern Munich (@FCBayernEN) July 18, 2023
It’s not a system that would necessarily get the best out of Napoli’s attacking stars, particularly in wide areas, although it might help to shore up a backline that – in the absence of Kim – has shipped goals in 8/12 Serie A outings thus far. If Mazzarri proceeds with the 4-3-3, it will be a system that he has never deployed in a senior management role – perhaps it’s even a philosophy that goes against the grain of how he believes the beautiful game should be played.
His appointment is more a PR exercise designed to win the supporters back following Garcia’s disastrous turn, but even that could turn sour if the players – or their new manager – find themselves in uncharted territory, tactically speaking.