The Return of Napoli’s Matador
This weekend against Atalanta Edinson Cavani scored his 19th and 20th Serie A goals for the season. However El Matador had experienced an uncharacteristic goal drought that had seen his tally stuck on 18 league goals for seemingly weeks on end.
Indeed Cavani had failed to find the back of the net since the January 27th game against Parma. However, his weekend’s brace should not prevent us from asking some important questions about Cavani and how he has been doing at Napoli this season.
Since the departure of Ezequiel Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Walter Mazzarri has changed his side’s style of play and there have definitely been some repercussions on Cavani as a result. Indeed, since the argentine’s sale, there has been less width about Napoli. Especially when you consider the fact that he has been replaced by the likes of Goran Pandev, who is a player that operates in more central areas in comparison to Lavezzi who worked the channels much more. In addition, the Macedonian’s presence on the pitch conjugated with Marek Hamsik’s – who has also been repositioned more centrally – only narrows Napoli’s play all the more. The fact is that today it is Cavani who plays the Lavezzi role, moving into the channels and opening up space for others. Consequently, Cavani doesn’t find himself in the penalty area and into goal-scoring positions as often as he should.
Cavani’s natural inclination to always work hard and be altruistic also often takes him out of position, and namely the one he should be in as a prima punto (target striker). The fact is that he seems to be overcompensating by the lack of width in Mazzarri’s side. One of the main reason Napoli’s width has suffered this season has not only been due to Lavezzi’s departure, but also the fact that Christian Maggio has not been the same player this year. In effect the Italian international seems to have lost that engine that allowed him to dominate his right flank. With Carlos Zuniga having improved this season and Pablo Armero having joined Napoli on loan, they would seem the better wing-back options at this moment for Mazzarri to recover some of the width his side possessed last season.
Napoli’s wide play has indeed been a very important weapon in Mazzarri’s counter-attacking side. The wing-backs offered that out-ball and indeed were the main reference points of the side. With Maggio not being as dominant this year, that weapon’s efficacy has waned. As a result, Napoli doesn’t open up the pitch as much as they used to and this forces Cavani to work the flanks in order to create a bit of space for himself. At the same time, Mazzarri has refocused his side towards a more possessive style where the central midfielders are the main actors. Thus with the wingbacks not being as present, Cavani has not received some of the service he used to enjoy from wide areas in the shape of crosses.
Finally, we have to notice that Napoli’s counterattack is not applied at the same devastating pace that it used to. Moreover the team doesn’t seem to play as directly as they used to. With Hamsik and Pandev – who both more often ask for the ball to feet – flanking Cavani to form the tridente (front-three), there isn’t as much profundidad (verticality) about the side as they used to be when Lavezzi played alongside the Uruguayan. Consequently, Cavani doesn’t get the ball first-time and as quickly as he used to and thus doesn’t find himself in goal-scoring positions as often as he did last season for instance. One of the other reasons for Cavani’s goal drought has also been some personal issue to which he openly admitted to the press. And El Matador, who had felt that the media pressure was coming down on him, cleared the air and responded magnificently afterwards with his brace against Atalanta that sees him heading towards his first title as Serie A capocannoniere (top-scorer).
Follow Ogo Sylla on Twitter: @RossonerOgo_3