MILAN Just as they seemed to have found a replacement for the departed Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli must rebuild their attack again after newcomer Arkadiusz Milik suffered a serious knee injury last week.
Milik scored seven goals in his first nine appearances for Napoli after joining them from Ajax Amsterdam, quickly allowing them erase memories of Higuain after his moved to bitter rivals Juventus in July.
But the Polish striker is expected to be out for around six months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 3-2 World Cup qualifying win over Denmark last Saturday. Milik, 22, will be missed for his movement as well as his goals. "We must turn the page and look ahead with confidence in people that were already here and those who arrived, with or without Milik," said goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Coach Maurizio Sarri still has four forwards at his disposal - Jose Callejon, who has played alongside Milik until now, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Manolo Gabbiadini.
Italian media expect Gabbiadini to initially replace Milik although an alternative would be to play Mertens, who usually plays on the left of the attack, as a so-called false number nine.
Mertens has mainly been used as a substitute this season, with Insigne starting on the left hand side of the attack, although the Belgian international has been extremely effective when he has been brought on.
Milik's injury has come ahead of one of the most important games of the season for second-placed Napoli who host third-placed AS Roma on Saturday.
The outcome could decide which of the two will provide the biggest challenge to the dominance of Juventus, who have won Serie A for the last five seasons and have already opened up a four-point gap at the top.
“For Napoli, Milik's absence will be a big burden," former AC Milan and Juventus coach Carlo Ancelotti, now with Bayern Munich, told Il Messaggero.
"He had started well and was very effective even if he’s not a finisher like Higuain. Now it’s up to Gabbiadini to prove his worth, he can be decisive."
Meanwhile, Milik was trying to come to terms with having to watch from the sidelines.
"The only pain that I feel is inside because I cannot play," he said.
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar)