Piotr Zieliński 2019/20 – scout report
This scout report is a tactical analysis of Piotr Zieliński for the season 2019/20. It is an analysis of his style of play, and his role in the tactics deployed by Napoli. It further aims to arrive at his importance in the Napoli line-up.
Piotr Zieliński has been at Napoli for four full seasons now, arriving from Serie A club Udinese in 2016. In the four years with Napoli, he has managed to cement his place as one of the key cogs in their midfield. In his first three seasons at the club, he was a vital part of the team which finished second runner-up (2016-17), and runner-up (2017-18, and 2018-19). This season, however, hadn’t been Napoli’s best, for more reasons than one. The on-going dispute with the board could have possibly pulled down performance levels of the players as they finished seventh in the league. Their worst finish in the past eleven seasons! They did, however, manage to win the Coppa Italia and save themselves some blushes.
Napoli’s midfield has been a strong contributor to the team’s fortunes in recent years, and one of their main men is Zieliński. The analysis aims to understand his contribution to the team’s play, both defensively and in attack, and thereby evaluate his importance to the side. The tactical analysis is based on all of the Serie A games he’s played in season 2019/20.
Role in the line-up
Zieliński plays as a midfielder in the Napoli side. Zieliński prefers the left-sided midfielder role as a part of the midfield three or two, and has played near all of his minutes in that position – as a left central midfielder. Occasionally, he has also played on the right side to execute specific in-game tactics. Take for instance the starting line-ups from the games Udinese vs Napoli and Napoli vs Roma, demonstrating his preference to play on the left in a midfield three/two.
Zieliński has a tendency to cut-inside centrally while carrying the ball forward. This works better for him since he has a preference to use his right foot, which enables him to open up the shooting & passing angles. His tendency to cut inside can also be seen in the below heat-map.
As mentioned earlier in the scout report, this tactical analysis aims to understand Zieliński’s role in the defensive & attacking halves of the pitch. The analysis first looks at Zieliński’s defensive ability, to understand which we look at two key factors: defensive duels per 90 and interceptions per 90. Defensive duels per 90 indicate the number of times, per 90, when Zieliński was involved in a duel with an opposition player in possession of the ball. While this may not be able to indicate who’s better than whom, it does indicate the intent of the players to get involved in defensive duels. We also look at the interceptions he makes per 90. Interceptions are useful in determining how good a player is at reading the game and anticipating the next move. Cutting off a passing lane by good positional awareness and intercepting a pass, helps break up play and even start a counter-attack. For both of the attributes, the analysis compares Zieliński’s numbers to his fellow midfielders at Napoli.
The analysis first takes a look at Zieliński’s numbers for possession adjusted interceptions and defensive duels per 90, as compared to other Napoli midfielders: Elif Elmas, Fabián Ruiz, Allan, Stanislav Lobotka and Diego Demme. For this analysis, we map a scatter plot of the two attributes in consideration.
Zieliński, despite playing the most minutes among midfielders this season, makes the least contributions towards Napoli’s defensive play. Among the six midfielders in the analysis, Zieliński makes the least interceptions per 90 (3.37) as opposed to Ruiz who makes the most with 4.99 per 90. In terms of defensive duels too, Zieliński comes in last at 3.19 as opposed to Allan’s 10.14 per 90. It is possible that per Napoli’s tactics, Zieliński is tasked with lesser defensive duties, and therefore doesn’t contribute much to the defensive play. It would, therefore, be fair to say that when tactics demand more control and defensive play, Zieliński is probably not the best of options to have on the field. The numbers for all the midfielders in the analysis are given below.
So far, the scout report indicates that Zieliński isn’t the best of Napoli’s options if looked at only from a defensive contribution angle. The tactical analysis now takes a look at Zieliński’s playmaking and attacking contributions to Napoli’s play. For this analysis, we consider two important factors: passes to the danger area per 90, long-range passing and off the ball movement. Zieliński, apart from his tendency to cut inside and his frequent shooting, is known for his ability to pass. Passes to the danger area, therefore, combines two attributes, passes to the penalty area and passes into the final third. Combined, they give us an indication of the passing intent of the player. If lesser than the other teammates, then the playstyle can be termed as conservative and possession-based; if better than the teammates, the play style can be termed as chance creating and attacking. Long-range passing is another indicator of the ability to influence an attack.
The analysis first takes a look at his ability to make a long-pass. For this analysis, we grab instances of his play from the game Udinese vs Napoli.
The first instance came in the 50th minute when Zieliński overlooked at least four easy pass options and instead played a long-pass to Di Lorenzo to fashion a chance out of nothing. And he did, only for Di Lorenzo to squander it due to lack of support. However, the pass itself was beautifully thought out and executed. The below images depict the incident.
Another such instance, to substantiate the analysis, came in the very next minute (51st). This time, Zieliński received the ball and cut slightly inside from the left and moved centrally. By doing this, he moves Udinese’s central midfielders towards him and creates a gap for Di Lorenzo to run into. He then makes another beautiful long pass to Di Lorenzo on the other flank. The below images depict the incident.
Chasing an equaliser, Zieliński makes another such beautifully weighted long-pass in the very next minute(!) i.e. the 52nd minute. This time, the analysis shows that he has at least five relatively safer pass options but he fancies creating a chance by playing the ball over seven of Udinese’s players, into the path of Di Lorenzo. The below images depict the analysis further.
The analysis further looks at Zieliński’s passes into the danger area. As mentioned earlier, passes into the danger area combines two metrics: passes into the penalty area per 90 and passes into the final third. Zieliński makes the second most passes into the danger area with 12.36 per 90, only lead by Ruiz who makes 13.4 per 90. This statistic indicates his tendency to drive the ball forward and build attacks more often than his midfield teammates. Below are the numbers for all the players in the analysis.
The analysis further brings out another facet of Zieliński’s play which is integral to Napoli’s tactics. His penetrating progressive runs, which create angles and spaces for Napoli’s attacking tactics. Zieliński possesses some very sleek off the ball movement that has come good for Napoli’s tactics more often than not. A progressive run can be defined as a considerably long forward run with – a stretch of 30 m if both starting and ending points are in the same half, 15 m if both points are different halves, and 10 m if both points are in the opponents half. Zieliński not only makes the most progressive runs (3.2) among his fellow midfielders but also makes the seventh most progressive runs among all the midfielders in the league. Below are the numbers for the other Napoli midfielders.
The below analysis depicts just how crucial Zieliński’s runs are to the attacking tactics. We look at a few instances where these runs have opened up attacking opportunities for Napoli. The first such instance for this analysis is from the game Milan vs Napoli, played out by Hirving Lozano, Dries Mertens and Zieliński.
Another instance to substantiate this analysis, and re-emphasize the importance of these runs to Napoli’s tactics, comes from the same game. This time, the plot is played out by Allan, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Zieliński.
Conclusion – his importance to Napoli
While the scout report cannot conclusively state that Zieliński is better than all of the other Napoli midfielders, it has provided an insight into the style of play adopted by Zieliński. It’s no surprise that his play is likened to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne.
The tactical analysis, having covered the defensive and attacking contributions of Zieliński to the Napoli play, suggests that while he is an attacking force for the team, his defensive contribution is below par. In cases where Napoli’s tactics require a more conservative and controlled approach, Zieliński may not be the first choice to bring on the pitch. His attacking style of play and long passes mean that there are greater chances of losing the ball, and greater chances of compromising defensive shape due to his frequent progressive attacking runs. However, in games where the tactics require a more attacking and creative approach, Zieliński is an absolute must in the team. Absolutely indispensable to the team, as there are none in the team better than him in attacking plays. His attacking contributions far outweigh his defensive contributions to the team. Therefore, depending upon the tactics to be used, Zieliński can be used to good effect.