When Napoli stunned Juventus to win the Coppa Italia last month, one would have expected the club’s record signing to have played a major role in the success.
Instead, Hirving Lozano sat out the entire 90 minutes – and the subsequent penalty shootout – despite coach Rino Gattuso utilising five substitutes.
A day earlier Gattuso had publicly rebuked the Mexican attacker, sending him home early from training for not working hard enough.
“Anyone who is tired, who doesn’t feel like it, who isn’t sharp mentally, as far as I am concerned, he can just stay in the locker room and miss a day of training,” Gattuso roared to RAI Sport.
“Everyone knows that if they step on to the field with me, they have to go at full speed. I won’t allow anyone to ruin a training session.”
This sorry episode provided a microcosm of what has proved to be a disastrous first season for Lozano in Serie A.
He arrived at the San Paolo last summer from PSV Eindhoven amid much fanfare and huge expectation. Napoli beat a number of Europe’s top clubs to the 24-year-old’s signature, shelling out a massive €42 million. Then-coach Carlo Ancelotti immediately hailed the man nicknamed ‘Chucky’ as “a complete footballer with fantastic quality”.
Certainly, his performances for PSV and the Mexico national team provided many reasons to be excited. Capable of playing anywhere across the frontline, Lozano scored 40 goals in just 79 games for PSV. He’d also shone at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, cutting inside from the left to fire home a memorable winner versus reigning champions Germany.
And this excitement only increased when he made an instant impact on his Napoli debut. The Partenopei were being thumped 3-0 by Juventus in Turin until Lozano lit up the game as a second half substitute. He scored one and even put fellow debutant Matthijs De Ligt on his backside as Napoli dragged the game back to 3-3, only to then lose in injury time.
Unfortunately, this is as good as it got for Lozano.
The ex-Pachuca man has scored only three goals in all competitions this season and provided just one assist. His FC Average Player Rating for 2019-20 is 6.2, the second lowest in the entire Napoli squad.
Everyone knows that if they step on to the field with me, they have to go at full speed. I won’t allow anyone to ruin a training session.Rino Gattuso
He has started just eight league games, with Napoli winning only one of these. His last start was way back on December 7 at Udinese when he was hauled off with Napoli trailing 1-0. The Partenopei would rescue a draw but this would be Ancelotti’s final Serie A game before he was replaced by Gattuso.
Gattuso has since placed virtually no trust in the Mexican. He has afforded him just five fruitless Serie A appearances off the bench, games Napoli all lost. Chucky’s only start under Gattuso arrived in the Coppa Italia last 16 win over mid-table Serie B side Perugia. He would play no further part in the club’s victorious run to the final.
Following a dreadful run of results with Ancelotti in October and November, Napoli have been reborn under Gattuso. They are on a seven-game unbeaten run and have lost just one of their last 11 matches in all competitions. This sequence has included going unbeaten in six games featuring Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Barcelona – beating all three Italian sides.
Gattuso has built his squad’s success around all the traits that were associated with him as a player; grit, determination, togetherness and solidity.
Napoli have been ultra-defensive at times - leading to Gattuso’s football being derogatively labelled ‘Gatenaccio’. The coach has deployed a deep-lying 4-1-4-1 formation, with anchor man Diego Demme sitting in between two low blocks of four and Dries Mertens as the lone frontman.
Wingers Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon have spent most of their time defending in their own half as wide midfielders, only permitted to attack on the counter. This wide role requires great discipline, concentration and tactical awareness – qualities which Gattuso doesn’t feel Lozano has. The Mexican averages only 2.9 recoveries a game, significantly lower than Insigne, Callejon, Matteo Politano and even Amin Younes – the other players challenging for a wide midfield berth.
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At PSV, Lozano did not have to focus much on defending or tactics as the 2018 Eredivisie champions swatted away most opponents with ease. Often starting from the right wing, he excelled with his direct running from deep against open defences.
Lozano has not been able to make the step up to the tighter and more strategic Serie A. Even under Ancelotti where he was largely fielded as a central attacker in a 4-4-2 formation, he made little impact offensively. He has only created three big chances all season; Insigne has 11, Callejon 10, Mertens 8 and Fabian Ruiz 7.
Everton are one team who are monitoring developments in a move which would see Lozano reunited with the coach who brought him to Napoli; Carlo Ancelotti. Many close to Lozano feel that the open nature of the Premier League will suit the attacker more and allow him to utilise his speed and dribbling skills.
Dalian coach Rafa Benitez has also admitted that he has discussed with Napoli the possibility of swapping wantaway winger Yannick Carrasco with Lozano. Benitez still enjoys an excellent relationship with the side he coached from 2013 to 2015, and already has Azzurri legend Marek Hamsik on his books.
However, the very fact that Lozano is being associated with a move to China at this stage of his career highlights how far his stock has fallen. He has undoubtedly been the Serie A flop of the season.