When Napoli signed a little-known Slovakian midfielder from Celta Vigo for just under €30 million thanks to the recommendation of their legendary captain, many Napoli fans weren’t quite sure what to expect. From the few minutes he played following the January move, there were glimpses of his technical ability, but not enough to justify the signing.
Things became even sourer when Lobotka visibly gained weight the during summer and looked slow and sluggish every time he did manage to get onto the pitch. It was not looking good for the man many looked towards to fill the void left by one of the greatest players in club history as well the former captain of Napoli and Slovakia: Marek Hamsik.
But sometimes all a player needs is a fresh start and the confidence of his manager. So, when Luciano Spalletti came in and centred his Napoli project around Stanislav Lobotka, the little genius we see now was born. From the first minute of Napoli’s first pre-season game under Spalletti, there was a significant improvement. He looked sharp, he looked quick, and most importantly he looked like he was enjoying his football again.
Napoli are having a historic season; they have all but wrapped up their first Serie A title in 33 years. They have also reached the quarterfinal of the Champions League for the first time in their history and could very well go all the way.
Georgian wonderboy Khvicha Kvaratskheila who has taken the league by storm and Victor Osimhen who have combined for 45 goals and assists between will gain all the headlines, and deservedly so. But Stanislav Lobtoka is without a doubt Napoli’s most important player and everything they do goes directly through him.
Lobotka does it all for Napoli, he controls the tempo, keeps the ball moving, retains the ball extremely well and almost never loses it no matter how hard or how many try to press him. Lobotka averages 63 accurate passes a game at an incredible 94% accuracy, his long passing accuracy is also 78%, which is up there with the best passers in the world.
He also has a 52% tackle success rate highlighting the other side of his game. He is key to Napoli’s fluid attacking style, whether it is a pass between the lines to open up the defence or turning under pressure and dribbling from deep, Lobotka always finds a way.
Spalletti compared him to the great Andres Iniesta, and the resemblance is certainly there. Napoli do not look the same without him, he is the brain in the middle of the park. He decides when it’s time to slow the game down and catch a breath or when it is time to speed things up and press higher up the pitch suffocating the opposition.
However, his job is made a little easier when you have a midfield partner in Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The two of them work so well together, they almost mirror each other in many ways. Both rarely lose the ball, both do well in the transitional phases of the game and are rarely caught out of position.
Not only do they keep the attack ticking, but they also shield their back line very well making their lives simpler. It is very hard to find weaknesses in their game. Although Anguissa can choose to have some games off, they are always the focal point of everything Napoli do.
Lobtoka recently signed a new contract extension keeping him at the club for at least another 4 years with the option of a 5th. Something I’m sure Spalletti and every Napoli fan is excited to hear. As long as they have their midfield general, they will be just fine.
Thank you Marek Hamsik, your legacy remains.
By: Mohamed Salad / @SaladNFL
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images