Napoli’s vital defender
Even though he often doesn’t receive the plaudits like his sensational attacking teammates do, there’s no doubting the immense importance of Raul Albiol to Napoli.
Providing essential structural stability, balance, and experience, the Spanish center-back has been crucial in helping Napoli remarkably win their first eight league fixtures, which sees them sitting pretty atop the Serie A table two points clear of Inter Milan.
In Napoli’s impressive 1-0 win over Eusebio Di Francesco’s excellent AS Roma side, the imposing 32-year-old was once again in superb form, in a match where he was instrumental in nullifying the effectiveness of Edin Dzeko. Keeping last season’s Capocannoniere winner quiet is never easy, but through a combination of physicality, intelligence and his terrific relationship with defensive partner Kalidou Koulibaly, Albiol managed to do just that.
Positionally sound and alert to the movements of the Bosnian forward, Albiol barely gave his adversary an easy touch. Whether aggressively pressing him when he dropped deep to link play or tracking him vigorously when he made runs in behind and into the box, Albiol made a dedicated effort to make things as uncomfortable as possible for Dzeko.
By using constant head checks, the former Real Madrid stopper has himself a persistently updated mental imagery of his surroundings and where best to situate himself to deal with the scenarios he faced. In addition, the way whenever Dzeko moved into Koulibaly’s area of operation, Albiol and his partner would smoothly pass over the marking duties, which served as a testament to their brilliant understanding.
Meanwhile, on the attacking end, his wonderful distribution skills enabled him to play an integral role in constructing his team’s attacks. Equally adept at playing more intricate short passes, line breaking vertical deliveries or long diagonal switches, his strength in this regard only amplified his impact.
By the numbers, his four tackles, five successful clearances, in combination with statistics that state he completed 10 of his 12 long balls and 92.3% of his 63 passes, further depict his unmistakable influence.
Ahead of Maurizio Sarri’s men’s captivating clash with Pep Guardiola’s equally entertaining Manchester City coming up in the Champions League, Albiol noted how he looks forward to the challenge of facing the team he describes as the best in Europe. “I hope it’ll be a great game. Naturally, as a defender, I can’t hope for it to end 4-3, but everyone is waiting for these two teams who attack and score a lot of goals. We hope for a great performance and we will be concentrated in Manchester,” he said.
With this in mind, Albiol will be desperately hoping he can enjoy a similarly outstanding outing like his one vs. Roma. If he can do precisely that, then the Little Donkeys’ chances of beating one of the world’s premier sides will certainly be increased dramatically.
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