If someone says that they know what’s been going on at Napoli during the last couple of months, you’d probably be smart not to trust them. The way some of the players switched off was truly astonishing and whether this was because of Aurelio De Laurentiis’ ritiro attempt or something else, it matters little now.
The President tried to pick up the pieces by replacing the surprisingly neutral Carlo Ancelotti with Gennaro Gattuso, but even the hot-headed 2006 World Cup winner hasn’t managed to get into his players’ heads yet.
It’s obvious that Napoli needs a spark and with the club bringing in Diego Demme and Stanislav Lobotka, the Vesuviani hope that some fresh blood might wake up the rest of Gattuso’s squad.
Adding two defensive midfielders in just one week speaks clearly of the club’s intentions, as although they created enough chances, the Napoli players risk far too much when they go forward.
Strikers can be blamed for missing some sitters for sure, but whether it’s a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 formation, Napoli’s midfield has lacked balance ever since Ancelotti took over and that’s an issue that hasn’t been addressed properly until now.
Fabian Ruiz, Piotr Zielinski, Allan and Eljif Elmas are very good players, but all of them like to venture forward, which often leaves huge amounts of space behind their backs and leaves the defence without any protection.
While the Napoli defenders keep making inexplicable individual errors, some of them could be spared with the presence of a man who sits right in front of the back four and that’s exactly where Lobotka and Demme can fit in.
The Slovakia international, who arrived from Celta Vigo for €24m, has been the main figure in the Spanish side’s midfield ever since he joined them in 2017. An interesting fact about Lobotka is that he hasn’t scored a single goal in each of his 83 appearances for Celta, which, as strange as it may sound, is good for Napoli. The reason for Lobotka’s lack of goals in Spain is his position on the field, as he is tactically disciplined and rarely drifts into unnecessary runs forward.
The 25-year-old is very capable on the ball and has good technique, which allows him to distribute the ball quickly, but also to hold it up and dribble past a player, if necessary. He has averaged 89% passing accuracy during his 17 appearances for Celta this term, while defensively he rarely dives into tackles and prefers to stay at his feet, which is confirmed by his average of just one tackle per game.
While Lobotka is often cautious in his defensive approach, the same cannot be said about his new teammate Demme, who arrived in Naples for €12m from RB Leipzig.
The 28-year-old has averaged 2.5 tackles per game in the Bundesliga this season, but he is tidy and efficient in possession, just like his new teammate. Both players have a rather low key passes per game ratio of 0.6 for Demme and 0.5 for Lobotka.
Demme ranks fourth of all players in the Bundesliga for total passes, so just like Lobotka, he’s a player who’s comfortable on the ball in difficult situations, as while he can’t really shine with his creativity and many vertical passes, he can distribute the ball and pass it to a more attacking-minded player.
Luckily for Gattuso he has a number of those, as Zielinski and Fabian Ruiz both average more than one key pass per game, while Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon average more than two. In that regard, Lobotka and Demme cannot improve Napoli defensively, but also when in possession, as currently the Partenopei lack a player who is reliable on making simple short passes.
However, Demme’s also quite impressive with his long passing, as he has completed 65% of his 85 attempts in the Bundesliga this term and that indeed is a solid number.
In conclusion, we can say that both players will arguably be very useful when Napoli are transitioning from defence to attack, as the lack of balance within the current crop of players means that the team is having difficulties regrouping when the ball is lost.
At the same time, both Lobotka and Demme are pretty efficient ball distributors and can be used as a pivot in the middle of a 4-3-3 or as a more conservative option on each of the two sides. However, what’s arguably most important for Gattuso and Napoli is that the two players have been vital parts of two teams that’ve been trying to play good attacking football in recent years.