It has been an uncharacteristically quiet start for Napoli captain Marek Hamsik. In six matches, the midfielder has tallied only an assist, while he is obviously known for his offensive prowess. In his best seasons, he has been able to tally double-digit goals and dimes. Most importantly, he does not look as dynamic and as involved as in the past: he is clearly behind the eight ball from the physical standpoint. He is very muscular, so it could take him some time to find the right condition after the pre-season preparation, but Napoli had an early start of the summer program because of the Champions League playoff, so he should be fine by now.
Instead, here is what Gazzetta dello Sport had to say after the Shakhtar Donetsk game: “It is hard to say that this is not a crisis. You can not deny what is clear: this is a tough moment for Marek Hamsik. It has become a case that Maurizio Sarri is trying to handle to avoid further repercussions. He is the shadow of that talented player that intrigued Milan and Juventus so much in the recent past. It is truly embarrassing to see him plod after every ball and it could be counter-productive to keep relying on him.”
He has never played more than an hour so far this season as the coach is trying to protect him. This fact has drawn the ire of his agent Martin Petras: “He finished last season with some physical problems, then he took a break to rest and the season has just started. We always expect something more from Marek: he is fine now, but he only plays 60 minutes. We can only respect these coaching decisions, but from my viewpoint, it is always better for a player to feature in the whole game. Exiting after 60 minutes is depressing: you never rest that way. Preparing the game also has a psychological burden: it could be healthy to stay out, but you have to play 90 minutes in the next match.”
The coach Maurizio Sarri wisely defended him: “He is irreplaceable to me, he has that the ability to play between the lines that none of our other midfielders has. The only way to rest him and to have him at our disposal all the time is to sub him off. When a world class player has a down moment, I play him and support him even more: that’s the only way he can give his 101%.”
It is always recommendable for a coach to shield one of his best players, but Sarri might have to consider the alternatives, at least for the near future, until Hamsik is up to speed conditioning-wise. Napoli have won three games out of three in Serie A: two of them, against Bologna and Atalanta, have been solved after Hamsik was taken out of the pitch. They have Piotr Zielinski and Marko Rog who, albeit different players, could potentially be as impactful as the captain. Hamsik might be better off playing smaller stints at the end of the matches until he returns the devastating force he proved he can be.
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