ROME (AP) — For Napoli, it's down to the last of the "Three Tenors" to revive the glory of Diego Maradona's former club.
And so far, through only one round, Marek Hamsik looks up to the task. Hamsik scored twice when Napoli opened with a 3-0 win over Bologna last weekend as the southern squad showed it could be the biggest threat toward derailing Juventus' attempt at a third consecutive title.
Napoli's only Serie A championships came with Maradona leading the way in 1987 and 1990. Along with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, Hamsik was once one third of Napoli's feared "Three Tenors" attack. But Lavezzi left for Paris Saint-Germain a year ago, Cavani followed this past offseason and now only Hamsik is left.
"I feel at home here," Hamsik said. "I get along well with the fans, I like the city and I don't have any desire to change." Fortunately for Hamsik, recent months have brought more changes than simply teammates departing.
When Walter Mazzarri, Napoli's coach for the past four seasons, departed for Inter Milan, former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez was hired as a replacement. And Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentina international who scored more than 100 goals over the past seven seasons at Real Madrid, was brought in to join Hamsik in attack.
Another striker from Madrid, Jose Maria Callejon, also joined Napoli and scored the first goal against Bologna. With Cavani sold for 64 million euros ($85 million), the raid on Madrid also included Spain international Raul Albiol, who replaced captain Paolo Cannavaro at the heart of Napoli's defense against Bologna.
Napoli finished second to Juventus last season, nine points behind, and believes it can close the gap this campaign. "Juventus remains the title favorite but we're focused on our season. We want to win something this year," Hamsik said.
Benitez has coached in Italy before, at Inter for the first half of the 2010-11 season, and his style represents a sharp change from Mazzarri's three-man defense and focus on the counterattack. "We play more with the ball more now and I'm positioned further forward than last season," Hamsik said.
Benitez likes to have a group of five or six midfielders and forwards who can attack the goal at any time. "Any result is possible," Benitez said. "Of course we're only at the start and it's going to be a long road full of surprises but the groundwork is there to do well."
Next up for Napoli is a visit to Chievo Verona on Saturday, with Higuain expected to play despite requiring eight stitches to his face after cutting himself on rocks during an errant dive off the island of Capri on Monday.
In Saturday's other match, Juventus hosts Lazio in a rematch of the Super Cup that Juve won 4-0 two weeks ago. Juventus opened Serie A with a 1-0 win at Sampdoria, with Carlos Tevez scoring in his Italian league debut.
On Sunday, AC Milan attempts to bounce back from its stunning 2-1 loss to promoted Hellas Verona when it hosts Cagliari. Milan allowed two headed goals from Luca Toni last weekend but looked to have improved in Wednesday's 3-0 win over PSV Eindhoven to qualify for the Champions League.
In perhaps one of this weekend's more interesting matches, Hellas Verona visits Roma, which also won its opener, beating Livorno 2-0. Roma will have to play with one end of its stadium closed as punishment for fan racism at the end of last season.
It's the second consecutive match at the Stadio Olimpico with a section closed for fan racism, after Lazio's win over Udinese last weekend. Roma has been busy on the transfer market this week, selling Erik Lamela to Tottenham for 30 million euros ($40 million) and buying Adem Ljajic from Fiorentina for 11 million euros ($14.5 million).
Fiorentina has also impressed thus far, winning the first leg of its Europa League playoff with Swiss club Grasshoppers and then beating Catania to open Serie A. The Viola visit Genoa this weekend. And Inter, which plays at Catania, looks improved under Mazzarri, having beaten Genoa 2-0 last weekend despite laboring to find the goal in the first half.
Also Sunday, it's: Atalanta vs. Torino; Bologna vs. Sampdoria; Sassuolo vs. Livorno; and Udinese vs. Parma.