With a cigarette in his mouth, he observes from afar. The 56-year-old is forever a student to the game, taking the utmost care in each step he takes. A recent report from the newspaper Il Mattino explained he spends up to 15 hours per day involved in football related work.

Aside from training his squad, he comes home to watch films of opponents, analyse and study tactics and seek how to improve his team.

He fully immerses himself in the sport, in a position he would do free he says.

Living just 5km from Napoli’s Castel Volturno training ground, Maurizio Sarri has given his all to improve a team he inherited that finished fifth, missing out on Champions League contention on the last day of the season. Furthermore, Napoli conceded 73 goals in all competitions last season so there was obvious work to be done.

While many neutrals expected a major re-haul of the squad to occur in the summer, Sarri acted swiftly to dismiss those claims. Just like the hardworking values he embodies, he described going out into the transfer market to purchase defenders would not be the solution.

Instead, Napoli’s troubled defence that has been their true weakness over the years would be bettered by hard work in training.

There’s no better figure to symbolise just how much Sarri has improved this side since just taking over in the summer than Kalidou Koulibaly. Arriving from Genk last season for €7 million, the centre-back fought off competition from Miguel Britos and Henrique for a starting spot alongside Raul Albiol.

Appearing as a diamond in the rough, the potential in Koulibaly was there for all to see last season, showing glimpses every so often of what a great defender he could become with proper nurture.

However, raw in his approach, lapses of concentration continually let down the Senegalese international last term. Indeed, he committed five defensive errors last season which was the most out of his teammates.

But in came Sarri and the 24-year-old – who was possibly going to leave the San Paolo this past summer –has transformed under the ex-Empoli coache’s watch and Napoli are now reaping the benefits.

Operating at left centre-back, Koulibaly hunts down opponents, not affording a single inch of space. While he was caught out on a number of times when venturing too far forward last season under Rafael Benitez, the former Genk man adheres to a patient, timed approach that Sarri has instilled in him.

Koulibaly appears more focused and confident on the ball this season for the Partenopei, a stark contrast from his playing days under Rafa. Excelling in sharp passes with both feet, his great vision and calmness in possession has been effective in helping rotate the ball and start the attack.

Indeed, Koulibaly has completed the most passes in the Europa League this season, 295. He also produced a phenomenal assist to Jose Callejon in his club’s 5-1 victory against Midtjylland, firing a ball from his own half in which the Spaniard caught on the volley.

Additionally, Sarri has helped the Senegalese international improve his positioning with use a drone deployed in training. Last season, the 24-year-old was not disciplined enough during the course of an entire match, leaving his marker completely free a few times per game.

However, that’s very much changed for the physical defender, sticking closer to his opponent and providing much needed security in the back for the Neapolitans.

Simply put, Koulibaly has gone from a good prospect to one of the best centre-backs in the league. Given the nickname K2 – an abbreviation for the second tallest mountain in the world – Koulibaly does well to exemplify the comparison, standing at 6’5” and not affording opponents a chance to get past him.

The results have backed up Koulibaly’s improvement in form, with the Partenopei conceding just three times in their last 13 matches. The club can also boast the second best defensive record in the peninsula, letting in eight goals this term.

Napoli are flying high at the moment both in Serie A and the Europa League; Koulibay’s form under Sarri has given the club the solidity to genuinely compete on dual fronts this season.

About the author – Matthew Amalfitano

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, the Independent, Betfair, beIN Sports USA, Squawka and others.

twitter: _MattFootball


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He’s not very fast. He’s not great in the tackle. He’s not the most physical.

But Jorginho is the heart of Napoli’s midfield at the moment, and his excellent performances have given the club a lift to fight for Italy’s top places.

The Brazilian-born Italian arrived in Naples from Verona in January of 2014 and quickly impressed under then-manager Rafael Benitez, eventually beating out Valon Behrami for a starting spot and guiding the Partenopei to a third-place finish.

However, the positive tides would soon turn. Low on confidence and lacking the proper focus, his first full season with Napoli was one to forget.

But it might have been more to due with the regista’s partners in the double pivot. The club failed to properly reinforce their midfield two summers ago and were left with a regressing Gokhan Inler, a mediocre Walter Gargano returning from his Parma loan and new arrival David Lopez, who was seen as player that did not help the club make the jump in quality.

The lack of quality personnel coupled with reduced minutes and low confidence for Jorginho resulted in not so great performances from the 23-year-old.

After holding down third place in the second half of the season, the club fell to fifth place on the final day of the campaign and Benitez left Naples’ shores for the Spanish capital. The player’s agent was recently quoted as saying that if Rafa would’ve stayed, Jorginho would’ve left the club, while also mentioning four Italian clubs were interested in the regista’s services.

However, a new coach and system were then brought to Campania and one of Maurizio Sarri’s preferences was utilising three in midfield, the same type of setup used by Verona that really catered to and showcased Jorginho’s style and skill.

Operating in the heart of midfield, every attack flows through the 23-year-old as Jorginho sets the rhythm of his side. Vocal and always moving into space to receive the ball, the midfielder commands his teammates going forward; his effortless coolness on the ball allows Napoli to play out of situations without panicking and cheaply giving away possession.

Astonishingly, the regista completed 213 out of 222 passes between appearances against Club Brugge and Lazio, demonstrating his ability and fine precision on the ball.

Looking to his form in Serie A, Jorginho has averaged 90% passing accuracy, which is the best return out of his teammates. Remarkably, the club has won every match that he has started in. A correlation between the two? We’d like to think so.

In their past six matches in all competitions since changing from a 4-3-1-2 to a 4-3-3 setup, the club have scored 18 goals and conceded just once.

Jorginho will once again have captain Marek Hamsik and Allan along either side of him, with the trio having formed a solid unit this season. The latter does all the dirty work and protects the playmaker while Hamsik tucks into advanced positions upfield and feeds the Partenopei’s attacking line.

If Jorginho’s good form continues, he might be able to attract the eye of Italian national team coach Antonio Conte. Jorginho became eligible for the Azzurri after years of living in the peninsula and completed his Italian citizenship last year. The 23-year-old could be a key player in Italy’s march to Euro 2016 and possibly towards helping lift the trophy in France.

For now, though, Jorginho holds the keys to Napoli’s midfield and their hopes of finishing in Champions League’s territory this season.

About the author – Matthew Amalfitano

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, the Independent, Betfair, beIN Sports USA, Squawka and others.

twitter: _MattFootball


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New Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri did not go down the usual route of making it to the top level of football management by being an ex-footballer. A bank manager until 2002, the 56-year-old brought his Empoli side to Serie A last season, making his managing debut in Italy’s top-flight.

Sticking by his 4-3-1-2, which demands the use of a trequartista to bring life to the attack, Empoli played some of the best football in Serie A. And with many predicting relegation, the Tuscan side finished in 15th.

With Rafael Benitez choosing not to stay in Naples, president Aurelio De Laurentiis was in need of a coach. To much surprise across the peninsula, Sarri was brought in 11 days after the Serie A campaign ended and he implemented a 4-3-1-2 right off the bat for the Neapolitans.

Given the number of wide attackers in Napoli’s squad, this formation was quickly met with criticism after the first string of disappointing league play results.

For one, Jose Callejon’s new role was that of a support striker. Not in a position to make his characteristically effective darting runs behind the defence, the former Real Madrid man looked like a fish out of water.

More importantly, given the 4-3-1-2 setup, the look of the squad was extremely narrow. While the Partenopei had no problem finding the net, with Lorenzo Insigne dazzling as a trequartista, Napoli allowed heaps of space on both flanks for opponents to come barreling down, which resulted in six goals being conceded in the first three matches.

With just two points picked up after three rounds of play, fans were at wits’ end with the provincial manager. Even club legend Diego Maradona spoke out about the situation, predicting that Napoli wouldn’t win anything under the former Empoli tactician.

While President Aurelio De Laurentiis publicly backed the new coach, rumours began to spread that Sarri’s last game to prove his worth would be in round seven against Juventus. Knowing a change was needed, Sarri analysed the situation and called upon a 4-3-3 for his men.

One of Benitez’s criticisms during his time in Naples was his stubbornness to be flexible with tactical setups, as his 4-2-3-1 came to be predictable for opponents to line up against. However, Sarri being as tactically astute as they come, allowed the 4-3-3 to be tested in the club’s opening Europa League clash against Club Brugge.

Simply put, the new formation has improved results.

Napoli hit three goals in 25 minutes and finished the match with a 5-0 scoreline. While the strength of the club’s deadly attack saw no changes, the defence looked much more organized given the shape of the formation.

Although some sneered at the level of the opponent at the San Paolo last Thursday night, a real test would come three days later against Lazio. The Aquile defeated the Partenopei on the final matchday of last season to earn a Champions League playoff spot. With a handful Lazio regulars missing through injury, Napoli did not hold back.

Astonishingly, another 5-0 outcome followed.

In one of the best revenge matches one will ever witness, Napoli’s 4-3-3 provided the right balance both offensively and defensively.

Full-backs Elseid Hysaj and Faouzi Ghoulam snuffed out attacks and regularly got upfield to play a key role to the side’s attacking phase.

As a regista in midfield, Jorginho set the rhythm of the match with each delicate pass. In fact, he managed to complete 213 out of 222 passes between the past two 5-0 results. The width of the defence and midfield helped the club keep possession and better line up against counterattacks.

Lorenzo Insigne commanded down the left wing and brought fans’ to the edge of their seats when he received the ball.

While the Partenopei did hit a recent snag against Capri by tying 0-0, they did manage to keep a clean sheet, which was their third in a row. A rare feat for the club last season, Sarri’s change in system has implemented better defensive coverage.

The chances were there for Gonzalo Higuain and Manolo Gabbiadini to snag a goal, but the pair couldn’t convert.

All in all, the side look much more balanced with a 4-3-3. The Neapolitans welcome Juventus this weekend which should ignite an electric atmosphere at the San Paolo.

With a 4-3-3 approach for Napoli, Sarri has the ability of leading the club to winning ways once again.

About the author – Matthew Amalfitano

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, the Independent, Betfair, beIN Sports USA, Squawka and others.

twitter: _MattFootball



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