It is no secret that some of the greatest players in football history have come from Italy or have at least played in Serie A. Two of the best players in the world in the past 15 years, Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) and Zlatan Ibrahimović (Milan) currently play in the league being the top goalscorers at age 36 and 39 respectively.
Some other strikers, though, haven’t reached that popularity levels and haven’t gotten a lot of recognition despite being crucial for their teams and delivering results continuously. In this tactical analysis, we will focus on one player that has proven his importance in Serie A and Serie B with his goalscoring abilities but never got the deserved attention playing for teams far outside of the media eye.
Francesco “Ciccio” Caputo, who currently plays as a central forward for Sassuolo, has shown consistency throughout the years, scoring 15+ goals in six of his last nine seasons playing in the top two tiers in Italy and this is a record that could be improved in the current 2020/21 campaign.
In the last three seasons, Ciccio Caputo has been a crucial part of Roberto De Zerbi’s team, scoring double figures in each of them and supporting the team’s drive to move up the Serie A table.
Main traits and career overview
Caputo has proved to be very adjustable to the different managerial strategies and has performed equally impressive under each of his managers in his career. His attacking flair and smart movement have earned him the respect of his opponents and many teams have suffered from his clinical finish. With intelligent positioning and high confidence on the ball, he became the main figure in Sassuolo’s current squad, just as he was previously at Empoli and Virtus Entella.
The 33-year-old has an impressive goalscoring record throughout the years, but what makes him even more beneficial for his teams are his passing abilities and creativity. Caputo regularly assists his teammates and provides key passes in the advanced areas supporting each of the team’s attacking movements.
With 11 goals and six assists so far this season, he has helped I Neroverdi in staying in the top half of the table, being the top goalscorer for the team along with Domenico Berardi (9 goals). They fulfil their attacking responsibilities quite well, but it is their defensive actions or lack of it, that stops Sassuolo from performing better. And despite their importance upfront, both players have failed to support the team defensively.
Coming to the top tier after scoring 27 goals for Empoli in the 2017/18 season, he dominated Serie A too, scoring 16 in his first season with Sassuolo. That record was followed by 21 goals (and seven assists) in 36 games last year leading to his record in the time of writing of 11 goals and six assists in 19 games. Despite missing six games due to injury in the first half of the season, the Italian got back stronger and helped the team in attack with immediate effect.
Sassuolo’s attacking approach
Roberto De Zerbi’s distinguished attacking approach has earned him a lot of recognition in the coaching world. With his focus on the team moving as a whole and not depending on one of two players, Sassuolo transformed into a versatile machine with impressive traits in ball progression and attack. Despite having dominant players like Caputo and Domenico Berardi up front who can certainly deliver the needed results, he encourages all players to take their chances on the ball and create goal-scoring opportunities on their own.
Contrary to other teams where the reliance on the strikers is immense, and everyone plays to deliver to them, at Sassuolo, they rely on complexity, overloading the advanced areas and threatening the goal as many times as possible. That leads to many shots from distance initiated by the midfield line where the players rely on their decision-making and try exposing the opposition.
De Zerbi wants his team to play possession football and control the game mostly in the opposition half. With a lot of movement and short passing, they build-up from the back and are very efficient in their ball progression. They aim to have as many players in the advanced areas as possible. The team like to have control both on and off the ball.
They play in a 4-2-3-1, which aims to offer better coverage and both provide width but also have bodies in the central areas. That’s achieved by using the full-backs for ball progression and having inverted wingers. This allows the team to overload the advanced areas and create passing combinations which result in having many options for finishing the attacks.
Movement and positioning
Although Caputo is focused on his attacking actions, he would often drop deeper to support ball progression and help in delivering the ball to the final third. Moving off the ball and making runs to the box is one of his specialities which leads to his strong positioning and ability to expose the opposition.
Showing impressive spatial awareness, he often moves very smartly between the opposition’s lines or sits right behind the opposite defensive line so he can then make a quick run on their blindside and move in a goalscoring position.
His movement back also aims to support the team’s counter-attacking actions. His control and confidence on the ball help him in receiving the ball early on the midway line and carrying it up to a good position from where he won’t hesitate to shoot. This confidence helps him in taking on his markers easily which often leaves him in a 1v1 with goalkeepers.
While he likes to move around, typically for his CF position, he most frequently occupies the box with a tendency to exploit the half-spaces. This way he could offer support through passing to his teammates or provide a direct threat to the goal.
Being a support system
While his ability to provide with key passes isn’t as distinguished as his goalscoring proficiency, he is still an important asset when it comes to creating opportunities. His occupation of the half-spaces puts him in a position to provide key passes and support his fellow attackers.
What makes him successful in that is his control and confidence on the ball combined with strong decision-making. He manages to hold on to the ball and pass it intelligently in situations where he is surrounded by multiple opposite players. That ability to escape his markers and retain possession of the ball often results in nice combinations with his teammates who would overload the penalty area.
He uses being a direct threat to drag defenders out of position and freeing up spaces for the others, putting them in a better position to score. Playing as if he is about to shoot on his own but sending a surprising through ball to one of his teammates increases the team’s efficiency upfront.
His main asset, though, remains his finishing. His positioning combined with his decision-making result in scoring double figures each season.
Strong decision-making and efficiency
There are a few reasons why Caputo is efficient in front of the goal. One of the most important ones is his decision-making. As mentioned, the Italian is often surrounded by many opposition players trying to cover him and stop him from reaching the goal, which often makes his performance dependable on his confidence and decision-making.
While many players work poor under pressure or tend to send the ball back too often when they meet a better structured defensive block, the 33-year-old always looks to finish the attacks threaten the goal. His drive and flair often help him in holding on to the ball and in bypassing the press.
His spatial awareness results in intelligent positioning in the box which gives the team more opportunities in front of the goal. It is his complexity though that makes him that successful in attack. As a result of his strong decision-making, you can see him shooting with both feet which provides Sassuolo with more explosiveness. The Italian has scored both with his left and with his right foot making him the key asset in the final third. His right foot is his leading foot but the fact that he could use his left foot should an opportunity arise is very beneficial.
He produces two shots per 90 on average with more than 50% accuracy which is a great addition to the team’s attacking approach. While his overall aerial presence is not very strong for a centre-forward he does occasionally manage to score headers thanks to his good positioning in the penalty area. His lack of aerial contribution though deprives the team of having a typical target man in attack.
Lack of defensive contribution
While Sassuolo have a great attacking organisation, their defensive performance is what lets them down this term. Part of their unsuccessful defensive performance is the lack of support by the forward players. Caputo’s defensive performance is below the average for this position and he rarely dives into any challenges and his 1.03 defensive duels per 90 underline his lack of contribution.
He wouldn’t apply pressure and try to recover the ball in the opposition half but would also rarely drop deeper to provide additional support. As mentioned, his positioning deeper back is usually to provide support on a counter or during the build-up.
Strong positioning, confidence and impressive decision-making is what made Ciccio Caputo that efficient in front of the goal in the last decade. Sassuolo’s decision to recruit him is one of the best ones they’ve made since he brought the team’s performance to another level.
While they aren’t a one-man team, he definitely deserves the praise as one of the most successful and efficient players in their squad. With his contract expiring in 2022, Sassuolo need to improve their defensive displays to be able to benefit from his presence and finish higher in Serie A.