Napoli Transfers: 5 Players Who Would Suit Benitez' Tactical Outlook
The Rafalution has begun at Napoli, and there are going to be some changes.
Walter Mazzarri managed to shape the southern Italians into one of the most attractive—and formidable—sides in European football, but his tactical style is very different to that of Rafa Benitez, and fresh blood will be needed to maintain the team's success.
The experienced Spaniard rarely strays from his tried-and-tested 4-2-3-1, so Mazzarri's three-man defence is the first thing to go. The Partenopei's current crop of defenders and wing-backs could all still find a place in Benitez' plans, but reinforcements will be needed elsewhere ahead for the coach's tactical change to work.
I've written in the past about what we might expect from Rafa, but what kind of players will he sign?
Benitez has had a profound effect on several players over the years, not least among them is current Barcelona player Javier Mascherano.
The small snag in this deal is the obvious fact that Mascherano remains an important player for the Spanish champions.
The 29-year-old has become a regular feature in Barca's defence but still favours his traditional midfield role—something Rafa would surely guarantee.
And following their exit from the Champions League, when they conceded seven goals in two games against Bayern Munich, the Catalan giants are said to be in the market for defensive replacements.
Fresh faces at the Camp Nou might leave Mascherano fancying a change.
This might be the least surprising transfer rumour of the summer. Benitez was responsible for turning Fernando Torres into one of the most lethal strikers in world football at Liverpool, where his proficiency in front of goal won plenty of admiration.
Torres drastic dip in form since leaving Anfield in a massive £50 million transfer to Chelsea is well-documented, but during Rafa's time at Stamford Bridge there were some glimmers of the old El Nino.
Benitez might be willing to gamble on his ability to continue that rehabilitation in Naples, especially if the Spanish striker forms part of the transfer deal for Edinson Cavani (you can keep up to date on that rumour mill here), as James Nursey suggests in the Mirror.
While at Liverpool, Benitez looked at the the Eredivisie in search of a reliable winger. He found Dirk Kuyt, and while the Dutchman wasn't always the most appreciated player in footballing circles, he was certainly valued by the Reds.
Now, it looks like Benitez has tied up a deal for another Dutch league star, this time in the shape of Belgium's Dries Mertens.
Mertens has averaged more than a goal every two games for PSV Eindhoven over the last couple of seasons and is among the most admired players in the division. He might not track back as much as Kuyt, but he'll offer plenty of attacking options on the flanks for Napoli and will fit Rafa's system perfectly.
Several outlets, including Sky Sports, are reporting that this transfer is already a done deal, but a club announcement has yet to be made.
The Metro's Danny Griffiths is reporting that Benitez is interested in another winger with an eye for the goal, too.
The British paper is suggesting that Napoli will pay as much as £23 million for Theo Walcott, whose blistering pace and technical ability would certainly cause problems in Serie A.
The England international, who is a key player at Arsenal, has developed well since the London club lost talismanic striker Robin Van Persie to Manchester United, and bagged 21 goals in 43 appearances for the Gunners last term.
Could Rafa use his connections at Anfield to engineer a move for want-away striker Luis Suarez?
The controversial Uruguayan is one of the most talented forwards in Europe right now and would represent a huge coup for the Partenopei, who will surely lose Edinson Cavani this summer.
Cavani and Suarez both favour a move to Real Madrid, but are used to battling one another for preference.
The Liverpool hit-man is much more impressive for his country than his Napoli counterpart, and though he's a different kind of player, Benitez will be thinking that if he's good enough to outshine Cavani in a Urugay shirt, he should be able to do it in the famous Azzurri colours, too.