Firefighter Callejon keeping under-fire Benitez at Napoli

Date:23rd October 2014 at 8:00am
Written by:

If there was one positive for Napoli and Rafael Benitez to take from Sunday’s 2–2 draw at the San Siro against Inter, it was the starring role of Jose Callejon once again.

His superbly clinical double, which is concurrent with his impressive start to the season, looks crucial when set against the current climate at the Naples club.

His six goals in seven matches have gone a long way in securing Benitez’s short-term future at Napoli and has helped offset the underwhelming form of Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain. However, for Callejon to display his best form at this current time has been a massive relief for Benitez as opposed to a reason for elation.

Napoli currently lie seventh in the Serie A table after amassing only 11 points from their seven games and the passionate Neapolitan fans were understandably furious when Athletic Club knocked them out of the Champions League in the play-off round. These factors combined have made for an uneasy couple of months for Benitez and it is Callejon who is currently providing the only glimmer of hope.

Benitez signed Callejon in the summer of 2013 for €10 million from Real Madrid and he impressed during his first campaign in Italian football, finding the net twenty times in all competitions. For Benitez, however, it has been the half dozen strikes in recent weeks he is most grateful for.

On Sunday, it was Callejon who ensured Napoli left the San Siro with a point and before the international break, it was he again who scored the winner in a tight home clash with Torino. The week before, the 27-year-old had also spared Napoli’s blushes against struggling Sassuolo with the winner at the Mapei Stadium. The pattern has been clear and now so too is the message: get the ball to Callejon and he will usually score.

It would have been understandable to overlook Callejon as the key player for the Partenopei in favour of Higuain, Hamsik or even new signing Michu. However, Higuain has experienced something of a troubling dry-spell in front of goal and failed to notch a single goal in his seven league appearances.

Hamsik, meanwhile, has struggled to find his best form during Benitez’s tenure at the San Paolo, having cemented his place as one of the league’s most talented playmakers prior to the Spaniard’s arrival. The Slovakian enjoyed a wonderful international break, starring in both victories over Spain and Belarus but again failed to capture the imagination against Inter at the weekend.

Perhaps Hamsik’s lack of influence was down to fatigue on that occasion, however it has not masked the heavy suspicion that Benitez has consistently failed to get the best out one of the greatest talents at his disposal.

Callejon-Inter-v-NapoliIn addition, the image of Higuain cutting an isolated and frustrated figure up front has helped Callejon’s purple patch appear anachronistic. The general mood at the club is one of a darkened nature, magnified especially after their premature exit from Europe’s premier club competition and there is only so much time whereby Callejon can turn draws and losses into wins for Benitez.

It is always pleasing for a club to have an attacking player enjoying a rich vein of goal-scoring form but when it is set against the backdrop of a beleaguered coach and a largely under-performing team, the reality is stark. Benitez needs his players to improve as a whole and share in the fine form of Callejon, as opposed to standing by and watching him take the plaudits.

Benitez is unquestionably thankful for the exploits of Callejón but knows all too well that they are only barely covering the cracks. Improvement is essential for him to still be Napoli’s coach come the Christmas break.

Follow Matthew Gault on Twitter at: @MattGault11