Napoli have experienced a steady overall introduction to the 2014/15 campaign, lying third in Serie A and safely through to the Europa League Round of 32, but a slow start to their league season, in which they registered one win in four, provides the fundamental reason behind the 12 points separating them from league leaders Juventus.
Keen to mount a genuine title tilt after last year’s third-placed finish, the club cleared the decks in the summer, trimming a bloated squad by over 15 players and recruiting the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Jonathan De Guzman and Spanish duo Michu and David López as replacements.
The omens for a shot at the Scudetto looked good as Rafa Benitez’s men opened the campaign by bouncing back from the disappointment of their Champions League elimination with a last-gasp away win over Genoa, De Guzman breaking Rossoblu hearts in the fifth minute of stoppage time on his Serie A debut.
Yet the bright start in the league was to prove a false dawn, with the Partenopei slipping to shock back-to-back defeats against Chievo on home soil and Udinese at the Stadio Friuli.
The visit of newly-promoted Palermo appeared to provide the opportunity to get back on track, only for the Rosanero to rally back to secure a point from a 3-3 draw after Kalidou Koulibaly and Duvan Zapata had given the hosts a two-goal lead.
This setback, however, provided the turning point of Napoli’s campaign, sparking a 10-game unbeaten Serie A run which began with a 1-0 away win over Sassuolo. Highlights of their resurgence included victories over Torino, Roma and Fiorentina, although their defensive frailties - particularly at home - were laid bare when Cagliari and Empoli both left the San Paolo with a share of the spoils following goal-laden encounters.
A 2-0 defeat against Milan at the San Siro brought this run to a halt seven days ago, before the Partenopei responded at the first time of asking to record their first win in five league games against strugglers Parma on Thursday night.
The result took Napoli up to third place on 27 minutes, with Lazio, Sampdoria and Genoa all breathing down their necks with one point fewer.
After missing out on the chance of Champions League football following a 4-2 aggregate play-off defeat to Atletico Bilbao, Napoli returned to European action in the Europa League, drawing Young Boys, Sparta Prague and Slovan Bratislava in Group I.
This time there were no such difficulties for Benitez’s men who sailed through to the competition’s Round of 32 by topping the group with 13 points.
Their reward for a strong campaign is a two-legged affair with Turkish outfit Trabzonspor, the Bianconeri’s opponents at the same stage of last season’s competition.