A couple of days ago, 6th seeded Napoli visited a tough Hellas Verona squad who found themselves only one point behind the “Napolitanos” in the league table. In what is a very tight table race, the stakes were high for Tuesday’s match, as the winner would gain an important edge in the fight for the obtention of European competition next football year. In the end, Napoli took care of business thanks to goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Mexican National Hirving Lozano.
As we all know, since head coach Genaro Gattuso’s team arrival in December, Lozano’s minutes have dropped drastically, having played in only 6 league games out of a possible 12, and coming off the bench in all 6. He has only played more than 15 minutes in one of those six games. In general, he has been forgotten altogether after owning an elite starting position in the squad during Ancelotti’s tenure with the club.
Just last week, “Chucky” was kicked out of training by the Italian head coach for not showing enough effort and attitude during the session. The tension has grown during the past weeks with people clamoring for Lozano to leave Napoli and search elsewhere for quality playing time. On Tuesday, Lozano was subbed on in the 84th minute with his side up 1-0. Five minutes later, he connected on a header from a corner sent to the far post to score his team’s second goal and thus clinch the three points.
Then, in the 90th + 2 minute of the game, Lorenzo Insigne sent a beautiful through ball where only Lozano and his speed could reach it as he flew by Verona’s last man. He took control of the ball, but as the time came to cross it for his signature goal on the match, he pulled it just a bit too much and the ball went rolling wide of the post. Lozano took advantage of his abilities and proved lethal in his short appearance on Tuesday.
So, did “Chucky” prove Gattuso wrong with Tuesday’s stint? To put it simply, NO. It’s no secret that Gattuso implements the style of play with his teams as when he was a player; gritty, tough, physical, and defensive. What is Hirving Lozano’s style of play? Speedy, dribbler, goal-scorer, spectacular. Does this fit with Gattuso? Not likely. But it isn’t a knock on Lozano either, who indeed has shown great skill and can play in Europe as he outstandingly proved last year. It all boils down to the coach’s preference. The Italian simply doesn’t believe Lozano fits his style all that well.
Another possibility could be exactly what happened last week in practice. Has “Chucky” shown the same consistent effort week in and week out? Maybe that’s where the problem is. But the fact that Lozano came in, scored on a header, and broke free for a one-on-one counter attack with the keeper which he missed wide doesn’t prove Gattuso wrong in the very least. Quite the contrary; it proves Gattuso knows his players’ abilities and what moments are adequate for them to be utilized in. And he wasn’t mistaken on Tuesday with Lozano.
The fact of the matter is that even with the Mexican National Team, Lozano has never shown that physical defensive style that Gattuso is so fond of. He is always looking to get open to receive the ball and break a couple tackles to get free and create danger. He is a play creator and maker, not a defender. We’ve seen time and time again, if a player can’t defend in Europe, unless he’s Messi or Cristiano, he’ll probably be on the bench. And when it comes to offense, the Italian coach simply might prefer more proven players, such as Insigne or Politano, and who can blame him?
Many critics have reacted in the opposite way toward Gattuso, claiming that Lozano has shown why he should be a regular starter. The truth of the matter is that the Mexican came on in the final six minutes plus stoppage time in a game where all the factors played in his favor, as he was left one-on-one with defenders and could take advantage of space by using his speed. Starting the game with a tied score or being down changes the story entirely, as spaces shrink tremendously and defenders are much more physical and aggressive on offensive players, especially in Italy.
This no doubt proves that Lozano has what it takes to be playing in Europe, but not necessarily in a club like Napoli under a demanding coach like Genaro Gattuso. If a player like Lozano is allowed to roam the field and his sideline freely, his performance will probably be much different than if he is asked to pressure off the ball, follow his man, and cover defensive routes. This second style will tire a player out much more and limit what he can do on the offensive end.
In short, it’s the coach’s duty to decide who fits his style of play the most and to field the team that gives him the best chance to win. As long as the team is winning, you have to side with the coach. Gattuso took the lead without Lozano, and brought him on in an ideal situation, in the best possible moment, and it payed off. And like the Italian said in the post-game interview: “I never hold a grudge after an argument, but you have to get to work immediately the following day. And then the field is what speaks in the end.” In other words, Gattuso was proven right this past Tuesday.