Ospina – Sirigu
After weeks of expecting Kepa Arrizabalaga from Chelsea and then a miraculous free signing of still-under-contract Keylor Navas, we end up with Meret as a starter. Meret’s performances and debatable potential are a whole other story. For now the fact is that we replaced Spalletti’s starting keeper Ospina for Salvatore Sirigu.
It’s easy to say that Navas is the best keeper (followed by Sirigu) of all four of them based on reputation, but based on last year’s performance it’s a little more complicated. Navas performed at a comparable level and style as Ospina—albeit in Ligue 1—and while they’re both clearly better than Meret at this time the same cannot be said of Sirigu.
On last year’s performance alone, the choice between Sirigu and Meret is hard. Both conceded more than the average keeper: in fact, Sirigu may have faced shots with a lower quality on average. Neither keeper was good coming off their line both for stopping crosses before they reached their target or to sweep. The advantage is slightly on Meret, but that is probably due to the difference in style of play between Napoli and Genoa.
Verdict: Sirigu is a clear downgrade compared to Ospina.
Koulibaly – Min-Jae
Replacing Koulibaly is hard. As the highest-paid player in our squad and possibly the most influential, anyone we’d be able to afford would be a downgrade. The question then was less if we could find a replacement in terms of quality than if we could find one in terms of potential and style of play. Finding someone who could work well alongside Rrahmani was crucial if we didn’t want our whole defense to break down in his absence.
It’s hard to evaluate Kim Min-Jae in terms of data as he hasn’t yet played in the top 5 leagues, and assessing a player’s quality in 3 or 4 games can be just as tough—a small dataset can hint at trends that are completely false. All we can say for now is that he has presented himself well, his passing seems better than average when he plays it safe, but he hasn’t impressed when trying long balls over the top.
He has on a few occasions come off his line in order to stop attacks before they could become dangerous in a way slightly reminiscent of Koulibaly. All we can do is remain optimistic that he’ll continue to progress… and impress.
Verdict: Definitely a downgrade for the coming year, but we can’t be too mad about that.
Ghoulam – Olivera
This one is easy: while Ghoulam was one of the best left-back in Europe in his prime, that was cut short by injuries. To be an upgrade on last year’s Ghoulam, all Olivera needs to do is be solid and fit. The question, however, is how much he can actually improve our squad. Olivera was a starter for Getafe, but as the size of the club increases so does the quality of its players. For now he hasn’t replaced Mário Rui.
The competition with his fellow Napoli left-back is hard to evaluate. Getafe’s left-backs have much less freedom to move forward when in possession compared to what Mário Rui does with Napoli. His stats show this: last year Olivera was a much more defensive fullback than his new teammate. Taller and more physical, he is able to contribute aerially in ways that Rui could only dream of.
The positives are encouraging though. Olivera is in the top 1% (compared to all full-backs in the top 5 leagues) in terms of total and successful pressures and has shown he can defend in all parts of the pitch. The rate at which he is successful, however, is still lower than Il Maestro.
Verdict: probably not a starter for us, but definitely an upgrade for our team overall.
Fabián – Ndombele
Fabián is a particular player, and comparing him to anyone is hard as there aren’t many who play like him. Slow, but with incredible ball control, he wasn’t the best player for counters—whether they were ours or our opponents’.
However, Fabián was crucial to our midfield: he was always capable of carrying the ball forward and evading pressure, and his passing quality was undeniable. When the ball moved forward, it was often through him. While he was never going to be at Koulibaly-levels of un-replaceability he was perennially under-rated player by Napoli fans who saw his faults more than his qualities.
Tanguy Ndombele is a difficult signing to evaluate. Not wanted by both his current manager (Conte) and the previous one (Mourinho), he has left Tottenham fans surprisingly unanimous: he is a player with incredible skill, but also very lazy. Off the ball movement is not his strength, and he follows amazing performances with completely uninspired ones.
In a way, we could see him as a more talented Fabián with less motivation, but that would probably be a mistake. He is a better dribbler, both in terms of ball progression but especially in terms of taking on his opponents. On the defensive side he may press slightly more but he’s been less use in terms of using his positioning to cover-shadow opponents and intercepting passes. The rest of his defensive game has been lackluster, even compared to Fabián.
Verdict: Possible downgrade, unless Spalletti does his magic.
Insigne – Kvaratskhelia
It is very hard to rate Insigne after a such a controversial season. Khvicha has already shown to be a better goal scorer than Insigne from open play, but Insigne’s contribution in the buildup and defensive phases of Napoli’s play shouldn’t be forgotten. In his Last season for Napoli, Insigne may have had one of the worse goal returns for a player of his level in the top 5 leagues; in fact, he seemed absolutely incapable of scoring from open play for most of the season despite trying more shots than his fellow wingers would dare think of. Even taking every penalty didn’t help him much: he went from one of the best penalty-takers in the worls do bang average in one season, and no other player in the top 5 leagues missed as much as he did.
His replacement seems to have a lot of his qualities—their dribbling is their main strength for both—but everything indicates that he may not have the same mental blocks as Insigne had. Overall he is stronger, taller, and clearly a better finisher (though that would go without saying). But Kvaratskhelia isn’t without fault, and as this is his first season in a league better than the Russian Premiere League it is hard to say how well he’ll fare in the UCL. He has a long way to go if he wants to be at Insigne’s level.
Verdict: a downgrade in experience, but maybe less problematic for the team than Insigne was.
Mertens – Raspadori
It came as a shock to many when we lost Mertens after months of rumored discussions and negotiations—including, it seems, Mertens himself. Reportedly it was neither Mertens’ quality nor his salary demands that blocked the deal, but his playing time requirements.
Napoli signed Raspadori in his stead: a young player who is in many ways similar to the player Mertens has become. While he’s an obvious downgrade in terms of quality and output, it makes sense to be optimistic. Raspadori is still only 22 years old, and if he continues to improve he may be as good as Mertens is today in only a couple of years. What we will probably miss most is the incredible finishing quality that Mertens has shown this last year (in which he had double the goal output than his xG would predict).
Verdict: Downgrade, but we can be optimistic for the long-term.
Petagna – Simeone
Petagna was much maligned by Napoli fans last year, but while his style of play (and physical appearance) very much made him the odd one out in the team, his output in terms of goals wasn’t bad and he was a top assist-maker for the squad… when he played.
Simeone, on the other hand, fits Napoli’s style under Spalletti much more. A more natural goalscorer, he’s been able to bag a goal every two games (slightly lower than Osimhen’s 0.7 goals per 90, penalties excluded). He has also massively overperformed compared to the quality of his chances, which is something that would very much be needed to close out difficult games.
But it’s his overall profile that is most important. While his contribution in midfield, buildup, and chance creation might be lower than Petagna’s, he’s a player who is capable of deputizing for Osimhen if the latter gets injured… without fundamentally changing how the team plays overall.
Verdict: Upgrade in terms of squad depth.
|Sirigu for Ospina||A clear downgrade|
|Min-jae for Koulibaly||A clear downgrade|
|Østigård for Tuanzebe||A clear upgrade|
|Olivera for Ghoulam||A clear upgrade|
|Ndombele for Fabián||Possibly like-for-like, probably downgrade|
|Raspadori for Mertens||Downgrade on the short term|
|Kvaratskhelia for Insigne||Contentious, both downgrade and upgrade|
|Simeone for Petagna||An upgrade overall|
Overall it’s hard to argue that this transfer window concluded with an overall upgrade of our squad. The team is now younger on average (by two years compared to last year) which is a clear positive for the future of what was one of the most aging squads in Serie A. Without taking the opposition into account we probably have a weaker starting XI overall but it seems like we have more depth than previous years.