There has been a lot of excitement surrounding Napoli recently and not only because of the seemingly endless wait for the Champions League last sixteen to begin but also because of Eduardo Vargas, Chilean striker who they signed with big hopes for the future.
They managed to snap the player from under the noses of Inter and Chelsea after he had lit up the Copa Sudamericano tournament with a Universidad de Chile side playing similar 3-5-2 football to Napoli’s. The belief in the player’s abilities finally reached the point where Napoli was willing to get him at a big price after a stunning performance with two goals, including one solo-effort, in the second leg of the final of the continental competition against LDU. Considering the style of Universidad’s play and the quality of the performances, there is some hope that he can make an immediate impact with Napoli.
Napoli fans gathered in numbers to see last nights game between Napoli and Cesena, probably more excited about the prospect of seeing Vargas play for the first time in the Partenopei shirt than the Coppa Italia tie itself.
With him starting in a strong line-up as a part in an attacking trio alongside Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik with Gökhan Inler in midfield, it seemed as if he had all the ingredients available to make a fantastic first impression in his new club.
However, his performance in San Paolo was far from what people who had seen him play in South America for Universidad de Chile or Chile’s national team had expected. The 22-year old seemed to be struggling mentally as well as tactically.
The low point of his 46-minute performance was without a doubt the Cesena goal on the 21st minute – it was pretty much the first time he got back to defend and immediately his attempt to win the ball in front of his own box ended up being an assist for Cesena’s Stefan Popescu who slotted it in before Napoli’s defenders could get to him.
But it wasn’t the only thing that went wrong for him. He was clearly nervous in this game with all the eyes turned on him. This nervousness wasn’t helped by the fact that Napoli’s player for the opening phase of the first half almost forced the ball upon him with passes to areas where it was very difficult to come out of with the ball. He wasn’t enjoying it against a very tight Cesena defence, never really managing to create anything of remote danger – the only times he looked good was when he could give the passes away with one or two touches.
When he was substituted at half-time, I felt that Mazzarri would’ve kept him on happily if it was simply insecurity from the young player but what probably pushed the manager into change was the fact that Vargas struggled to understand to adapt to the game, his role and his team-mates. A clear indication that there is a need for a learning curve, something which Mazzarri himself had hinted at before the game, saying:
“He’s a young lad and football is different in Chile. We can’t wait to see him but I know the atmosphere here and I don’t want him to feel too much expectation.”
Failing to read passes of people who he has played together for only few days was understandable but his grasp of the role he was supposed to play was inexistant. When Ezequiel Lavezzi or Goran Pandev partner Cavani, then their job is to get on the ball as much as possible, often with a lot of freedom to move in-between opponents defenders and midfielders. What Vargas seemed to do more than anything else in attack was getting in the way of Cavani, often taking up his position in the box, effectively making two threats in the box into one.
It looks as if Mazzarri allowed Vargas to play with freedom on the pitch but in reality the better approach for now might be a more disciplined role with clearer indications of what he has to do on the pitch, at least until he gets to grips with the Italian game and creates an understanding with his team-mates.
I do not doubt in his talent and I think eventually he’ll grow to be one of Napoli’s big stars but the game against Cesena made it clear that demanding an immediate impact from him might be too much to ask for. He does require some time to adapt, similar to Ricardo Alvarez of Inter who took six months to start living up to the reputation he was brought into Inter with.