Could the summer get any better for Napoli?
The Partenopei drew, 2-2, with Arsenal in their first match of the 2013 Emirates Cup. The positive nature of the result was slightly lessened when you consider Napoli conceded two goals in the second half. Still, everything you saw from Napoli makes you think this is a club that can compete for a league title.
You can't say that about Arsenal at this point. The Gunners haven't addressed the things they have needed to. It was quite a coincidence that Gonzalo Higuain finally set foot on the pitch at the Emirates, only it was for the other team. That was a microcosm of Arsene Wenger's problems in the transfer market.
You certainly have to like Napoli much more after the draw, and they looked much better than either Galatasaray or Porto did in the first match of the Emirates Cup.
Napoli haven't had a long preseason. These matches are just about getting everybody adjusted to a new manager and up to match fitness.
Still, given how they performed in the first half, this is a Napoli side that is close to hitting on all cylinders already.
The race for the Serie A crown in 2013/14 is somewhat up in the air, even with Juventus winning back-to-back titles. They are only getting older, and it's going to be hard for them to win a third title in a row if they start to focus more on the Champions League.
The other usual suspects—Inter Milan and AC Milan—have their own problems. Inter is a mess right now and don't look like title contenders at all. Milan will rely a lot on Mario Balotelli, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
The clubs that are really poised to make a title run are Fiorentina and Napoli. Of the two, Napoli get the slight edge.
Losing Edinson Cavani was no doubt a blow to the club. But Napoli have done some wonderful business this summer.
Higuain, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon have been added to an attack that already included Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne. Higuain should flourish now that he's away from Madrid, and Insigne looked great in the European Under-21 Championship.
Then, Benitez was able to shore up the back by bringing in Raul Albiol and Pepe Reina. Reina might have struggled at times last season, but he's still a very good goalkeeper. Albiol will be a steady presence in the back four.
On the pitch, Napoli are set.
Off the pitch, it's the same thing.
Where will Napoli finish in Serie A?
Rafael Benitez isn't the most popular manager, but he just may have been the perfect hire for the club. It seemed Walter Mazzarri had peaked as a manager. When Napoli were fighting their way up the table and into the Champions League, Mazzarri looked like a genius. Once Napoli reached that level, more was expected of Mazzarri and the club as a whole. For the most part, he didn't deliver.
Now the club has a manager who has proven himself in Europe. You don't win Champions League and Europa League titles just by luck. He even managed to upset the duopoly in Spain when he won two league titles with Valencia.
You also have to consider how similar Liverpool and Napoli are as clubs. Neither are the most glamourous in their respective countries. Their supporters are rabid, sometimes overly so, and largely come from working-class backgrounds. Benitez was always a fan favorite and still is among Liverpool supporters, so it should be the same with Napoli.
It's never a good idea to reach a whole lot into preseason results. Rather than being a shock to the system, Napoli's 2-2 draw with Arsenal was just affirmation about how good this team is.