With Juventus and Napoli both struggling to start out the 2015-16 season, the usually intense rivalry between opposite ends of Italy has taken on any more intrigue than usual. They are 12th and 13th in the Serie A table, respectively — something you probably didn't expect through five rounds knowing what these two clubs are capable of.
So what's wrong with Napoli?
That's where we've gone to get some help. Seeing as my boss here at SB Nation, Mr. Conor Dowley, just so happens to root for Napoli and write about them at The Siren's Song, there was only one thing I could do — that would be ask him the same kind of question (and a couple other ones) that I posed above. And since he's a nice guy, he decided to cooperate even though his favorite team is frustrating him just as much as our favorite team is frustrating us these days.
So, in short, I asked Conor questions. He answered said questions. Away we go.
BWRAO: The sample size is obviously small, but how would you sum up the beginning of the Sarri Era to date now that we're actually seeing games happen?
TSS: It's been a mixed bag. When things have worked, it's been fantastic -- just look at Napoli's matches against Lazio and Club Brugge to see just how well it can go. When it doesn't work, though, it's pretty miserable. See the rest of Napoli's matches for that one.
It's a big transition to go from Rafa Benitez to Maurizio Sarri, both in terms of tactics employed and methods and just the managers themselves. It was never going to be perfectly smooth and there were always going to be some pretty big bumps in the road. But this has been pretty rough, much more so than even most of Sarri's harshest critics and doubters in the fanbase would have imagined.
BWRAO: Take the manager out of the equation for a second. Do you think Napoli is a better team than last season?
TSS: If we're really just looking at the players involved? Given that Napoli only cut deadweight and added a bunch of decent-to-quite-good players, yeah. They are. Allan is a huge upgrade over Walter Gargano, ditto Vlad Chiriches over Miguel Britos and Elseid Hysaj over Giandomenico Mesto. In terms of starting XI vs. starting XI, though, the changes are more minimal. Without Champions League money to really let them go nuts on the transfer market, Napoli were relying on Sarri to make the team significantly better -- and that seems to be far from certain so far.
BWRAO: Marek Hamsik is quoted recently as saying "Napoli must improve." What, exactly, does Napoli need to do different than in its first five Serie A games?
TSS: Other than "not suck?" They've struggled mightily for consistency in both attack and defense so far this season. The defense has been showing steady improvement as players get used to their roles in Sarri's system -- some personnel adjustments have helped too, most notably benching Christian Maggio -- but the attack is still pretty volatile. Deny them space, and they're helpless. Leave things more open, and they'll hurt you. Scoring five goals against Lazio and Brugge is cool and all, but figuring out how to better break down the Carpis and Sassuolos of the world would be nice too.
BWRAO: Be honest, do you miss Rafa? (Elaborate at your own will, bossman)
Wait, you really want me to elaborate? OK: Hell no.
To be honest, so far the results aren't wildly different than we were used to under Rafa. The only difference is that Sarri admits that Napoli have problems to fix other than blind luck and the referees screwing him. That's not much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, but it sure is a whole lot less frustrating.