Arkadiusz Milik has been ruled out for several months after suffering a cruciate ligament injury while on duty with Poland. It is a terrible blow for Napoli and their ambitions in Serie A and the UEFA Champions League. How will they cope without their main striker?
What Napoli have lost
The 22-year-old joined Napoli from Ajax in the summer to fill the void left by the departure to Juventus of Gonzalo Higuaín, scorer of 36 league goals last season. The Polish international has wasted no time adapting to his new team and already has four strikes in Serie A and three in the UEFA Champions League. The Partenopei fans had begun warming to him as a burgeoning new hero.
Milik’s aerial threat has also given an extra dimension to Napoli’s attack, and he scored two headers in the 2-1 victory at Dynamo Kyiv on matchday one. Having a striker so capable in the air was important for a team packed with attacking wingers – and great crossers – in the shape of Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, José Callejón and Emanuele Giaccherini.
Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli love possession and building from the back, but the long ball to Milik was becoming a good Plan B. Then there was his service for others, creating space for team-mates with his movement, not least captain Marek Hamšík and his central runs from midfield.
How can Sarri cope without Milik?
The most obvious solution is Manolo Gabbiadini. The 24-year-old Italian international has different characteristics to Milik – headers are not his forte – but he has a lethal left foot and has scored 14 goals in 49 Serie A games with Napoli.
Callejón has scored five goals in seven Serie A games this season as a right winger and has played as forward in the past. Giaccherini is returning to form after a summer injury and could play on the right if Callejón moves into the middle.
Insigne and Mertens are always in competition for a place on the left, often replacing each other during games; it’s some luxury for the team considering their talents. Sarri could find a way to use both at the same time, with one of them a ‘false nine’, a role Mertens tried a few times in pre-season friendlies.
Last but not least, Milik’s injury could lead to a change of playing system from a 4-3-3 to 4-3-1-2. Captain Hamšík would play just behind two of the four forwards at Sarri’s disposal with new signing Piotr Zieliński – another Pole who has made a very promising start to the season – playing more regularly in midfield.
Napoli return after the international break with a tough Serie A game against Roma on Saturday before hosting Beşiktaş in the UEFA Champions League on 19 October. They have won their first two games in Europe.