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Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli’s next forward?

In the third part of our Napoli analysis series, we will look for a potential centre-attacking signing which could help the team in increasing their efficiency in front of the goal.

After covering their build-up strategy and their final third actions in our last two issues, we concluded that in order for the team to be able to fulfil their potential in attack and take advantage of their opportunities, they could look for some new additions in the central areas, where their options are lacking.

This recruitment analysis provides a mix of data, tactical analysis and scout report in efforts to find the best potential players who can help Napoli in increasing their offensive record.

What’s the target?

As we have examined in one of our previous issues in the article “Napoli: Why do they underperform in the final third?”, despite their outstanding data when it comes to creativity and delivery methods to the final third, Napoli struggle to convert those chances into goals. After doing an in-depth analysis of these methods, we saw that despite some individual flaws that the players possess, their overall performance when it comes to delivering the ball to the final third is pretty solid. We looked into the quality of their passes to and in the final third. It turned out that their delivery precision is high but due to the lack of versatility in the central areas they can’t take advantage of many good chances.

Their main options in the centre-attacking position are Arkadiusz Milik and Dries Mertens. They both hold different roles within the team‘s strategy and are the main goalscorers of the club with respectively nine and six scored goals. That is not a poor record at all, but considering their creativity and delivery rate, they could improve their efficiency. Often they miss opportunities due to poor decision making or work under pressure.

Fernando Llorente is the centre-forward option on the bench, who can be very helpful, but being 35 years old, his career is coming to an end and will see less and less playing time.

Recruitment analysis

In efforts to find a suitable replacement for each Milik and Mertens we set a variety of filters and followed different metrics who we find suitable for the mentioned attacking positions.


We set different criteria to be able to create an initial shortlist of players who we will examine. Our first one was choosing from forwards playing in the top five European leagues since Napoli are regular contributors to the European championships and they need a player that has already played top tier football.

We wanted to see a list of players that have the potential to be strong in the air. It is important, especially for the centre-forward position. This could be very useful when receiving long balls and also during attacking set-pieces. That’s why we looked for players with a height of over 177 cm.

Since Mertens, and one of the substitutions on this position, Fernando Llorente, are respectively 33 and 35 years old, we searched for younger players that can build a career at Napoli and potentially become key for the team. That’s why we filtered players in the range of 19-29.

The other important criteria were for them to have experience and enough regular playing time in order to be able to quickly catch up on the team’s tactics and eventually become regular starters. That made us pick amongst players with more than 1600 minutes of playing time in the current season.

And last but not least, we considered their transfer fees and set a target of <€50M.

That’s how we got our initial list of 68 players to choose from.  Then we created scatter plots considering the main metrics that we consider important for this position – Shots per 90 vs Shots on target %; Dribbles per 90 vs Dribbles succ. %; Touches in the box per 90 vs Shots per 90 and Aerial duels per 90 vs Aerial duels won %.


In these scatter plots and considering some more attacking metrics there were three players that constantly appeared above the average.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Shots per 90 vs Shots succ. %

From the image above, we could see that in the shots per 90 vs shots on target% metrics there are very few players that are placed above the average results for both indicators. We see that a high percentage of Markus Thuram’s shots were on target, but he creates less of them per 90 minutes.

Considering the players’ current clubs, performance in the other metrics and overall possibility for a transfer, we created a shortlist of three players of interest. Andrea Belotti of Torino, Alassane Pléa of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Denis Bouanga of Saint-Étienne. Bouanga’s 3.28 shots per 90, having in mind his quite fluid role and position all over the opposition half, are something to be considered as a huge advantage. These metrics are very important since we are looking for someone that takes advantage of the received balls.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Dribbles per 90 vs Dribbles succ. %

In the above graph, we have placed the dribbles per 90 next to the dribbles success percentage. We could see that Bouanga is well above all players when it comes to frequency with his 7.34 dribbles on average. He doesn’t seem to be making the most out of his efforts though since his success rate is quite low compared to the other players.

Pléa seems to be doing pretty well too, although he’s being placed right below the average results when it comes to successful ones. Again, Belotti is well placed right above the average with his 4.63 dribbles per game with a 54.3% success rate.

The reason we considered dribbling as a key ability for this position has a lot to do with players’ control, work under pressure and decision making. Their good dribbling rate is an indicator of solid performance under pressure which is key in these overcrowded with defenders areas.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Touches in the box per 90 vs Shots per 90

Our next image finds the same three players in the above-average quadrant. We place their touches in the box per 90 vs shots per 90. This way we could see if the players take advantage of most of their chances in the box.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Aerial duels per 90 vs Aerial duels won%

As mentioned we found having solid aerial abilities important for this role at Napoli, but of course not mandatory. That’s why we created a graph for the aerial duels per 90 vs aerial duels success rate. None of the three players had a height advantage since they are all around 180 cm. It was interesting to see though Belotti’s quite high-frequency rate (6.8 per game) with above the average success percentage.

So, going to our shortlist, we wanted to pick two out of the three players, based on metrics, team strategy similarities and the overall possibility for a transfer. Another detail we considered was offering options for replacing both Milik and Mertens.

That’s why we picked Belotti and Bouanga. Two completely different players with different roles and positions, who can both increase Napoli’s efficiency in front of the goal if used right.

Andrea Belotti

Belotti is 26 years old and is used as a centre-forward at his current club Torino, who are struggling with their performance lately. They got dangerously close to the relegation zone in a short period of time. There is some time for the team to get out of the difficult situation once the Serie A resumes with the arrival of the new coach Moreno Longo. But there is also the possibility of going down the road to the relegation, which will most probably mean Belotti will be up for an exit.

How he could fit?

Due to his natural centre-forward position, we would look at Belotti’s as a possible replacement for Milik who is currently linked with various clubs and a possibility to leave Napoli. Belotti has an outstanding aerial performance (6.8 aerials duels per 90). He is used to fighting for long balls in the box, due to his team’s tendency of using them to break the defensive line. Using his spatial awareness helps him in finding the perfect position where he can receive and shoot immediately, similarly to Milik. He also often drops back trying to help with advancing the ball.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Belotti’s 2019/20 heatmap

His measured actions and the threat he offers are often resulting in him being fouled, respectively in earning an attacking set-piece for Torino. He is often assigned to take these set-pieces. This could perfectly fit Napoli, since one of their traits is taking advantage of their attacking set-piece opportunities.

Belotti has scored nine goals in the league this team, becoming the team’s top goalscorer. His efficiency is impressive since his teammates are often stuck in the midfield and fail in delivering quality balls to the final third. This makes him an even more appealing option for Napoli, since as we mentioned, their creativity and ball delivery are of high quality and need a player with solid performance under pressure. Belotti often gets isolated but Napoli’s players’ movement could help him a lot in filling his potential.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Belotti’s work under pressure. Despite all three markers, he decided to shoot and it was on target.

His 4.63 dribble attempts per game make him a good option for receiving Lorenzo Insigne’s through balls and crosses. Due to the overcrowded box in these situations, the centre-forwards needs to have good control over the ball and strong work under pressure so he can escape the pressure. Solid dribbling skills and confidence on the ball could help in that. Compared to him, Milik has a more direct approach and doesn’t rely on dribbling, proved by his 1.79 dribbles on average.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
His dribbling abilities allowed him to take on his marker and shoot from a better position and he eventually scored.

The other difference is that Milik is more centrally oriented, and even his movement back is more limited to the central areas. Whilst Belotti goes out wide too and tries to provide passing options for his teammates and exploit from different areas.

The Polish player has also scored nine goals so far in the season, but Belotti’s flexibility and movement allow him to be good support for his teammates as well.

Denis Bouanga

Bouanga is not the obvious choice for Napoli’s attack, and that is mainly due to the variety of positions he is used at Saint-Étienne. He is a 25 years old versatile player, who has played in the role of winger, attacking midfielder, centre-forward and centre-midfielder. What makes him a good option though is his consistent solid performance, despite his change of position. Saint-Étienne were in a similar position as Torino in Ligue 1. There was a chance of them being relegated, but as the league came to an end prematurely they finished 17th. The bad news is that Bouanga is still rumoured to part ways with them, looking for a better chance for growth and his future will become clear in the summer.

How he could fit?

Mertens has been outstanding for Napoli for many years now, but he has his own limitations. His work under pressure and positional awareness are not always in sync with the team’s actions and this results in missed opportunities in front of the goal. We have picked Bouanga for two reasons: he can bring the needed quality and versatility (not only in the central areas), but he could potentially fit well due to some similarities of both teams’ approaches.

But apart from the similarities, there’s a lot that Bouanga can bring to Napoli and help them improve. The Gabon international could add as an indirect set-pieces threat thanks to his precision. His outstanding finishing, combined with his positioning make him a huge threat in front of the goal.

He has scored 10 goals in the league so far this term. Not only his positioning in the box is crucial for sending 3.53 shots on average, but he also shoots from outside the box quite frequently and equally successfully. A lot of his goals are headers which shows that he’s perfect for a team that tend to cross a lot because he can create chances in a variety of situations.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Bouanga’s perfect positioning in order to receive crosses. He scored a header.
Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
His opponents blocked all passing lanes so he demonstrated his decision-making and decided to shoot from distance and managed to score from this difficult angle.

His experience as a winger on the other side could also be beneficial for the team since he would be able to exchange positions with Insigne, who can quickly transform into a direct threat. Bouanga on the other side could attempt crosses. This would give Napoli the needed versatility in the final third.

On other hand, his experience in a deeper position could help Napoli for penetrating well-structured defences. His well-timed runs to the box provide an additional option for the team, which could affect their efficiency.

Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
His movement out wide helps the team in dragging defenders out and he could help with crossing.

Bouanga’s pace is perfect for counter-attacking actions. Combined with his control and confidence on the ball, it’s crucial in Saint-Étienne’s efforts on the counter. That’s an area that Napoli are yet to improve, which will provide more attacking options and increase their success on the goal. His dribbling skills help him in having that confidence for advancing the ball quickly. His movement past his markers looks effortless.


Recruitment analysis: Who should be Napoli's next forward? - tactical analysis tactics
Bouanga’s interception started a counter-attack. He outran two of his opponents and delivered the ball to the final third in a few second using his pace.


Napoli need to start looking for options as soon as possible since as we know the quality players are quickly targeted by the big European clubs. The faster they approach someone the better chance they have the transfer to happen. As we pointed out above, Andrea Belotti and Denis Bouanga are among the players who might look for an escape of their current situation and are a good fit for Napoli’s squad.

Both of them can increase their efficiency in front of the goal and provide a variety of solutions for their attacking actions. Andrea Belotti’s transfer fee is closer to the top mark of our search, €32M but knows the Serie A style of play well and is already adjusted out there. Whilst Bouanga is a clear bargain with his €8M market value but holds the risk of being unable to fit the league.