Successful partnerships are vital in all walks of life and particularly in football where good pairings, especially in midfield, can dominate a team, bringing a balance that everyone can reap the rewards from. Throughout history many of these special duos have graced Serie A, including world-class stars from Juventus and France’s Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane through to Milan and Italy’s Andrea Pirlo and Rino Gattuso.
Over the last few years Napoli also possessed a strong combination in Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami, who were at one point, one of Serie A’s most efficient midfield partnerships under previous Coach Walter Mazzarri.
However, with changing systems under Coach Rafa Benitez, Behrami left this summer, allowing a burgeoning rapport between David Lopez and Jorginho to come to the fore.
Lopez arrived from Espanyol over the summer and, like a footballing Saul on his way to Damascus, found his enlightenment through the support of Benitez. Today he possesses a physical strength, a solid temperament and a tactical awareness that complements Jorginho’s vision, technique and passing ability to build games.
The Spaniard made his debut alongside Walter Gargano in the defeat by Udinese in Week 3. Picked for the next away game, the 1-0 win over Sassuolo in Week 5 he started alongside Gargano again and has subsequently brought equilibrium to the side.
Since then he has also played alongside Inler, while his first start alongside Jorginho was in the 6-2 win over Verona, where it seemed to be the start of a great relationship and also the start of Napoli’s second wind.
Yet for some reason Benitez chose Inler as Lopez’s partner in the next game and Napoli ended up drawing with a poor Atalanta, a game that saw him sub Lopez in the second half for Jorginho.
In the following wins over Roma and Fiorentina Rafa again started with Jorginho and Lopez and this time it allowed Napoli to dictate the rhythm and approach, which is essential to make the Coach’s favourite formation function.
It looks like the tactician has finally settled on the pair as his preferred twin-pivots in his 4-2-3-1 but unfortunately for him and consistency, Jorginho will miss the Cagliari game this weekend due to suspension.
Uniformity of selection of course is vital and he will be missed as the pair have contributed heavily in the past few games. In both their individual efforts and in being more than the sum of their parts, they are now giving the team a real foundation to start attacks.
The last two wins seemed to be perfect examples of the pair’s work together, bringing a certain stability to the team. Against Fiorentina in particular, Lopez did the dirty work, won the ball back and in the second half, made some superb recoveries, stopped the Viola forwards from progressing any further down the field and was highly effective going forward.
Alongside him has been a rejuvenated Jorginho, who after a lacklustre start this season seems to be a lot fitter and who has also done his fair share of ball retrieval. And while last season he could be bullied off the ball that is certainly not the case this term. He dominated the midfield, won his duel with Borja Valero and is arguably enjoying his best spell in Azzurri colours.
Certainly Napoli are reaping the benefits of the cover that they provide but to claim that these two are the sole reason for Napoli’s new up and at ‘em style after only three games is perhaps a little bit too generous. Yet they have certainly played their part and to witness the finely-tuned understanding developing between them has been very rewarding for fans.