In terms of league football, 2019/20 will probably be a season to forget for the Napoli faithful.
Sixth in Serie A despite expectations of far more, I Partenopei's season has been fraught with instability, with a managerial change, key players being linked with moves away, and a demonstrable lack of confidence from the Napoli players for much of the season.
Still, the club were performing well in the cup competitions and rediscovered their Serie A form just as the season was postponed. With these factors in mind, here's a look at how Napoli's season has gone so far, how it could go should the season continue, and what the long-term future holds for the club.
As it Stands
Napoli were beginning to hit their stride just as the season was postponed - winning three Serie A games in a row for the first time in 2019/20 and earning an impressive draw against Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16.
Gennaro Gattuso endured a difficult start to life at the Stadio San Paolo following his appointment in December, winning just one of his five opening league games, and falling as low as 11th in the table. Their fortunes changed, however, when they beat reigning champions and fierce rivals Juventus in late January, restoring confidence to a Napoli side that desperately needed it. Following four wins in their subsequent five games, I Partenopei now sit comfortably in the Europa League places, impressive considering how dire they've been for much of the season.
While Napoli floundered in Serie A under Carlo Ancelotti, this poor form didn't carry over to the Champions League, where the current Everton manager ensured that his side went unbeaten in the group stages. Drawn against Barcelona in the round of 16, Gattuso's side laboured to a draw in the first leg, putting them in a decent position against Quique Setien's side when they eventually visit the Camp Nou.
I Partenopei are also performing well in the Coppa Italia, beating in-form Lazio in the quarter-finals and earning a semi-final first-leg win over Inter at the San Siro. Considering this first-leg away win - and the fact that they could potentially face either Juventus, who will be more focused on winning the league or Milan, who are arguably worse than Napoli, in the final, means that they will feel they have a good chance of winning it. Picking up a piece of silverware - their first since 2014 - will surely make up for a disappointing league season.
Injury Status & Potential Returns
Kalidou Koulibaly's season has been marred by injuries, suffering a muscle and a thigh injury respectively. This has kept him out of Napoli's last four games, but the centre-back returned to training at the start of the month and should be fit and ready if the season restarts. Kevin Malcuit, who has been out for much of the season, also returned to training in early March and should be available for Gattuso.
Nikola Maksimovic strained his calf a couple of weeks ago but is expected to make a return by the end of March, meaning he too should be available for selection.
Remaining Fixtures & Season Projection
Before the season was postponed, Napoli had another 12 Serie A fixtures to fulfil, including difficult trips to Atalanta and Inter and a final day fixture against the formidable Lazio.
Though qualifying for the Champions League is now beyond the realms of possibility, Gattuso's side need to carry on the momentum they had built before the postponement, to ensure qualification for the Europa League and that they finish the season on a high.
Listed below is a prediction of how the rest of their season will turn out, including what results they'll gain in their remaining fixtures, how many points they'll accumulate, and where they'll end up in the league table.
|Hellas Verona (A)||Draw|
Total Points Projection: 63
Predicted Finish: 6th
Taking into account tough fixtures against Inter, Lazio and Atalanta, as well as games against Milan and surprise package Hellas Verona, Napoli should experience a smooth, if at times bumpy end to the 2019/20 season. Facing a host of mid-table teams and relegation candidates too, I Partenopei should earn enough points to ensure qualification for next season's Europa League.
Player Contract Status
Napoli long-stays Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon are out of contract in the summer, making them both the subject of transfer rumours as of late. Mertens, who recently became Napoli's joint top all-time goalscorer, was said to be in talks over a contract extension earlier this month, although it is still unknown where he'll be come the start of next season.
Summer Transfer Plans
In recent weeks, Napoli have been linked with exciting young Genk striker Jonathan David, though no rumours have persisted as of late.
Potentially on the out, however, along with the aforementioned Callejon and Mertens, is Koulibaly, who has reportedly told Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis that he wants to leave in the summer and Hirving Lozano, who has endured a difficult debut season at the Stadio San Paolo and has been linked with a move to the Premier League.
Long Term Targets
In terms of the league, 2019/20 will be considered a complete write-off. Initially expected to challenge for the Serie A title, Napoli fans have to have had to endure a disappointing season, to the point where qualifying for the Europa League will be considered an achievement. The long-term target, now, is to learn from the mistakes of this season and transform themselves into title contenders once again, though this could be difficult if key players leave at the end of the season.
Gennaro Gattuso, though not possessing the managerial calibre of Maurizio Sarri and Carlo Ancelotti, has proven himself to be a more than capable manager, as demonstrated by nearly securing Champions League football with a, to be honest, frankly average Milan side in 2018/19. I Partenopei should retain faith in the young manager and give him time to rebuild the club.