What is going wrong for Carlo Ancelotti and Napoli?
Napoli is one of the two teams in Serie A’s top six that have the same coach leading the team as last season.
Considering that they kept their core practically intact, it was fair to expect that the Azzurri would start strong, while the other teams got used to new methods of work and different tactics.
And yet, after eleven games, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has collected only 19 points out of a possible 36.
There is no obvious reason why the team has not been able to keep up with Juventus and Inter so far, who are firing on all cylinders.
Ancelotti’s Napoli has never been exceptional in suppressing shots, but this year they’ve been worse than ever.
However, Napoli tend to concede low-quality scoring chances. There could be a problem with set-pieces.
It’s more likely that the slight worsening may have to do with the change of personnel and in general with a more aggressive defensive strategy compared to last season.
This summer, Napoli replaced Raul Albiol with Konstantinos Manolas, a less technical defender.
The former Roma defender is much quicker and more athletic than the 34-year-old Spaniard, intending to provide Ancelotti with a center back that is less vulnerable in the open field.
The other addition in defence was that of the Empoli’s rightback Giovanni di Lorenzo who imposed himself over Elseid Hysaj and Kevin Malcuit.
The Italian defender has not posted impressive numbers, but he is important as he is used to balance the system, since he plays as an added center back when Napoli attack, with Faouzi Ghoulam or Mario Rui pushing forward on the opposite side.
The main issue with this approach, which is more difficult to get out of the data, is that if Napoli’s press is broken, the team inevitably becomes vulnerable.
In fact, when the team presses it keeps the three-man defense, but when the opposing team manages to consolidate possession, the Azzurri shift to a four-man defense with the leftback who has to quickly rejoin the defensive line, with Di Lorenzo moving wider on the right.
Due to this structure, Napoli are vulnerable against switches of play and often struggle to maintain vertical compactness. This can make them exposed against higher-level teams that can effectively execute their build-up play under pressure.
Napoli’s underlying attacking numbers are similar to those of past seasons when they were the highest flying attack in the league.
Ancelotti might have built a fluid offensive scheme which produces goals regardless of what players are playing which roles but the rest of the league seems to have caught up to them.
The Azzurri are no longer benefiting from the finishing that last year benefitted them greatly.
Napoli have been the only team able to compete with Juventus in recent seasons, but there has always been a bigger gap between the Bianconeri and the Azzurri than between the Azzurri and the rest of the league’s top teams.
Other teams have improved, especially offensively, so much so as to challenge the position of Napoli as the second-best team in the league.
To save their status, Ancelotti will have to restore the defensive phase to last year’s levels without sacrificing offensive production or finding a way to make a further leap in their attack. Neither will be an easy goal to achieve.
Napoli boast of one of Serie A's most flamboyant club owners and one of its most successful coaches yet this week's events, which saw players rebel against a training retreat, have suggested that something has gone badly wrong behind the scenes.
The crisis erupted after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis ordered the team into a week-long training retreat, known as a 'ritiro', even though such camps are seen by players as demeaning and outdated.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti, whose future is now the subject of speculation, publicly disapproved and there were widespread reports that the players had ignored the decision following the 1-1 draw with Salzburg in the UEFA Champions League.
The club responded with a strongly-worded statement about protecting its rights which implied it would fine the players or even take legal action against them.
There were also reports of a dressing-room row between players and Di Laurentiis' son Edoardo, who is vice-president, and also an angry video call between Ancelotti and De Laurentiis senior.
De Laurentiis, 70, a prominent Italian film producer, has resurrected Napoli since buying them in 2004 after they had been declared bankrupt and relegated to Serie C.
However, he also has a tendency for making incendiary declarations, for falling out with his coaches - such as Ancelotti's predecessor Maurizio Sarri - and a reputation for interfering in team selection.
However, Ancelotti, who put his assistant and son David in charge for last Saturday's 2-1 defeat at AS Roma when he himself was suspended, has always seemed more comfortable at big clubs with spending power and where major titles were pretty much guaranteed - not the case with Napoli.
It remains to be seen as to what lies in store for Carlo Ancelotti and his Napoli side.