Not many sides have taken Atalanta apart quite like Napoli did last weekend. At this stage it’s no secret how much Gian Piero Gasperini has changed the entire fabric of the club since his arrival four years ago. La Dea are usually the ones handing out a 4-1 mauling, they don’t tend to be on the receiving end.
But on Saturday they were. Napoli simply blew their top-four rivals away in the opening 45 minutes with an intensity and attacking verve that’s usually Atalanta’s calling card. Gasperini’s men were thoroughly given a dose of their own medicine. Pivotal to their success in that opening period was Hirving Lozano, who scored twice in four minutes.
Lozano’s second, a wonderfully executed curling effort just inside the penalty box, was indicative of the confidence the Mexico international is now showing at the club. With four goals already this season, Lozano has equalled the tally of goals he scored in Serie A last season.
His great start to this season is in stark contrast to last, where the Mexican’s confidence was shattered. Being Napoli’s most expensive signing in their history weighed heavily on the player. Lozano became lost in the shuffle amidst a dressing room that contained some big characters. Furthermore, Lozano looked lost on the pitch, with then-coach Carlo Ancelotti seemingly unsure of his best position.
A recent report in La Repubblica highlighted the problems the former PSV Eindhoven player suffered. His handsome €4.5m a season salary caused tensions amongst the more senior members of the Napoli squad, who had been there longer but were being paid significantly less than the new arrival.
It’s believed that this caused Lozano to become isolated within the locker room, thus contributing to his lacklustre performances. It also didn’t help that, initially, he was pitted against local hero Lorenzo Insigne for a starting position, either on the left hand side of a 4-3-3 or as one of the strikers in a 4-4-2. There was only ever going to be one winner in that particular battle.
Things came to a head after the restart, when coach Gennaro Gattuso ejected the 25-year-old from a training session due to a perceived lack of motivation. An exit from the club seemed almost a certainty.
However Gattuso’s banishment of Lozano had the desired effect. He returned with greater enthusiasm and knuckled down. In addition, the summer signing of Victor Oshimen, for a club record €60m and wages of €5m per season has taken the pressure off of Lozano.
Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis reportedly rejected numerous offers for the Mexican during the transfer window, and this show of faith impressed Lozano. The departure of Jose Callejon opened up a space on the right-hand side of Gattuso’s 4-2-3-1 formation, which has allowed Lozano to thrive, and is no longer in direct competition with Insigne.
By all accounts, Lozano has now acclimatised to life in Italy, is learning Italian and has become more integrated within the dressing room. “I’m not giving anything to him,” said Gattuso following the 6-0 trashing of Genoa in September. “He’s a different player now, he’s got great strength in his legs, and doesn’t fall to the ground like a kid when he gets kicked.”
Many Neapolitans wondered how the club would replace Callejon after seven years of immaculate service. The Spaniard’s departure left a huge void on the right flank, and the club where linked with the likes of Sassuolo’s Jeremie Boga and Watford’s Gerard Deulofeu as natural replacements.
Yet it seems they had the answer all along.
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