‘If’ is not the most important word in football for nothing. If only Edinson Cavani had headed past Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and not into his hands last Friday. If only his free-kick had gone in and not over the bar. Had he rippled the net in the way he regularly does, he would have extended his lead at the top of the scoring charts. More importantly, however, Napoli would be just three points behind leaders Juve.
The reality is that none of that happened. Instead, Cavani extended his own goal drought which now stands at seven matches – five in Serie A and two Europa League ties. His last strike came in the defeat of Parma on January 27.
His current dry streak in the Italian top-flight is the joint longest in his spell with Napoli and matches the stint last season where, after a hat-trick against Milan, he didn’t net again until a 2-1 defeat by Catania.
“I was without a goal for the entire month of February and March has not started like I would have hoped,” the unfazed Matador noted this week. “But I feel calm and I will find the goal sooner or later. I’ve just had a bit of bad luck recently and I’m working hard to get back among the goals.”
Is it just down to bad luck or is there more to it? One thing is for sure, the Uruguayan does not seem to be getting the same amount of assists as in the past, while the ones he does receive are not being used as incisively. He has also taken to defending, tackling, looking for the ball and consequently because of that going deeper to get it. This leaves him out of position, it takes him away from that zone where he is so dangerous.
Another worrying aspect is that he is being allowed to run around the field like a man who has lost all of his winnings on a game of pitch and toss. These exertions leave him in no fit state to function like a top striker. Why is he playing that way?
One thing we do know is that Cavani’s dilemma is obviously synonymous with Napoli’s. The last time they scored, before Gokhan Inler’s deflected long-distance strike against Juve, was Hugo Campagnaro’s volley against Lazio in early February.
So what is the problem? Certainly the secondary strikers are not pulling their weight. Neither Goran Pandev, who has failed to score for 20 games, nor Lorenzo Insigne have really stepped up to the plate and replaced Pocho Lavezzi. Yet can the blame be apportioned as simply as that or is it more to with Mazzarri, his decision making and his insistence on using the same old tired 3-4-1-2?
By an astonishing coincidence since his arrival, Napoli’s final 12 games of the last three seasons have ended with five wins, three draws and four defeats giving them 18 points.
With that sort of finish again even second place will be a struggle. The Coach has looked increasingly agitated on the touchline and needs to start earning his money. Cavani can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same, but can Mazzarri? Can he trust himself when everyone doubts him and can he make allowances for that doubt? He needs to challenge his players for the big push, he needs to get Cavani back on the goal trail.