It is not a huge surprise that Napoli are yet to concede a single goal in the Coppa Italia this season. It has been a case of putting the players in their preferred positions and doing that has led to clean sheets against Lazio and Inter – at this moment two of the best sides in Italy.
Nobody has struggled more with the change of system implemented by Gennaro Gattuso than Fabian Ruiz. Not a playmaker, not a winger, not a classic creative midfielder and not rugged enough in the tackle to stand in for Allan.
Fabian has often been used strangely by the Partenopei ever since he came to the club from Real Betis in the summer of 2018. Under Carlo Ancelotti last season, he was used in a variety of positions including the left and right midfield. While he wasn’t the worst in that position, it wasn’t his absolute best either.
Due to the lack of a ball-winner in the middle of the park, Ancelotti often used him as a defensive midfielder this season. This left Fabian struggling off the ball, as he was asked to perform duties that simply didn’t come naturally to him. But with the arrival of Diego Demme under Rino Gattuso, Fabian has been finally playing in the sort of roles he prefers.
That’s what he did against Inter on Wednesday. With Demme behind him and Piotr Zielinski, Fabian had the role of conducting play from midfield. While Demme was playing that deep ball-winning role, Fabian had the task of getting forward and use his ability on the ball to dictate the Partenopei attack. And he thrived on it, also scoring the brilliant goal in the second half.
In 40 appearances last season, Fabian got only seven goals and three assists. But he could never play in a single position on a consistent basis. He did become a central midfielder towards the end of the season, but he got a goal about every time he played on the left. Bar the goalless draw against Red Star Belgrade, he played on the left in the Champions League as well.
All that, when he isn’t even the quickest player on the pitch. He’s more technical than pacy, meaning that a regular position on the left wouldn’t be a decent long-term option.
He did start the season playing as the attacking midfielder under Ancelotti, scoring against Lecce. But as the season went on, he became the defensive midfielder to make up for a lack of quality in that position. Recent games have seen him thrive in a preferred role.
He was impressive against Juventus, completing two tackles, and while Zielinski had got a goal in a 2-1 win, Fabian was one of the better players. He was key in making sure that the possession would flow smoothly and reliably. And perhaps, it is games like these that have shown where he should ideally play.
Against Antonio Conte’s men, Napoli did play very deep a lot of times in the second half. So did Fabian. But he had to come forward and pick out the attacking players on a consistent basis. He had to defend a lot of times considering the situation, but Demme helped him out once again. There was less burden to sit in front of the back four and do the dirty work.
He is a versatile player and very useful in many regards for the team. But it is finally time the team does him good instead of the opposite. He’s 23 and needs to grow in the right position instead of sacrificing his own development for the side. Otherwise, Napoli may as well do everyone a favour and cash in on his sale to a Spanish club this summer.