The retention of Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain was more significant than any new signing in the San Paolo side’s attempts to mount a serious Serie A title challenge.
There were persistent rumours over the future of numerous Napoli players throughout the summer following a change of coach.
Incoming boss Maurizio Sarri managed to stem the tide before any of his high-profile performers departed, thus providing an abundantly strong squad with which to launch an assault upon the top three spots.
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Defenders Vlad Chiriches and Elseid Hysaj, midfielders Allan and Mirko Valdifiori, plus goalkeeper Pepe Reina, were among those introduced to further boost the Versuviani ranks – but the resolution to resist reported overtures for one player already employed at the club was the most important decision of all.
French-born Argentine international Gonzalo Higuain remained in Naples to the relief of many supporters, and his extraordinary goalscoring exploits have carried on unabated into this campaign.
Higuain was astonishingly prolific under previous head coach Rafa Benitez, as the southern outfit finished fifth last term.
Napoli were the second-highest scorers collectively in Serie A during 2014-15, while their South American marksman personally plundered 29 goals in total.
The 27-year-old has been on fire again this season, despite wild speculation linking him with potential transfers to England and other clubs in Italy.
A lot of credit for that consistent form has been laid at Sarri’s doorstep, after he made ‘Pipita’ feel instantly welcome upon his return from Copa America duty.
A dedicated Higuain resumed work with the Napoli squad earlier than expected at their pre-season Trentino training base following national team representation, while informal talks there between Sarri and his prize asset led to a mutual understanding that has reaped substantial dividends.
Consequently his recent brace at home to then table-toppers Inter - including the second-fastest goal of the Serie A season - took Napoli to the pinnacle of Italy’s top flight for the first time since 1990.
The Neapolitans have been widely hailed as the most attractive footballing side in Serie A, which has contributed hugely to the regular supply of chances for Higuain.
He’s the type of centre forward who shoots on sight from every conceivable angle, resulting in a 55 per cent shot accuracy to date.
Perhaps the greatest attribute he boasts is his ability to move into dangerous areas time and again without letting missed attempts adversely affect him.
Higuain fired an average 3.1 shots per match last season in reaching 18 league strikes, while he has greatly exceeded that ratio so far in 2015-16 with 5.1 shots each game.
Innate skill to locate effective space has delivered 16 goals in 18 all-competition outings this term, with 14 of those dispatched in Serie A.
In addition, his upper body strength generally knocks most opponents off their stride, thus creating extra opportunities to notch even when under severe pressure.
The former Real Madrid star also works incredibly hard for the side; holding the ball up with aplomb and utilising his pace to get in behind enemy lines.
Though Higuain declined a contract extension in August, the Azzurri must go back with a more tempting offer in a bid to tie him down beyond 2018, or at least ensure that he sticks around for a while yet under his current agreement.
Boasting an operator up front who can practically guarantee a minimum one-in-two goal conversion rate is a mightily potent weapon for Napoli, as without such a deadly finisher, it simply wouldn’t be realistic for them to compete at the top this year.
It was also important that Napoli retained fellow attacking threats Dries Mertens, Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon to provide the service Higuain thrives upon, but not quite as vital as holding on to the predatory Argentine hit-man himself.
Despite hitting top spot last week, their disappointing 3-2 away defeat to Bologna on Sunday has meant they have been leapfrogged by Inter and Fiorentina.
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