Zúñiga back for Cagliari? An upgrade, but not the solution

Giuseppe Bellini

Camilo Zúñiga has missed the past two months with Napoli thanks to an injury that required surgery. Pablo Armero has attempted to fill in at left back. Neither Colombian is the solution for Napoli.

In an article about whether Marek Hamšík will return for Saturday's match against Udinese or be rested until the final Champions League match against Arsenal, this little tidbit was included at the end: Camilo Zúñiga hopes to be fit for the match at Cagliari, set for December 21.

But don't get your hopes up. With the short winter break starting immediately following the game in Sardinia, it might make sense to hold Zúñiga back until January, just to make sure he's fully fit. And perhaps by then, there might be another left-sided player set to come into the starting XI. Please.

And when saying "left-sided player" I mean "please please please buy an actual leftback". Napoli do not have a left back. They have left wingbacks. That, in a nutshell, was the problem against Lazio. The Pablo Armero that looked so strong while at Udinese was playing in a 3-5-2 under Francesco Guidolin. When previously used as cover for Zúñiga, he was in Walter Mazzarri's 3-4-3, or 3-4-2-1, whichever you wish to call it. Either way, he wasn't a defender. And it shows.

Armero is bad at defense. Period. He made a mockery of himself against Antonio Candreva at Lazio on Monday night. Candreva may be one of the better in his position at the moment, but that's no excuse for simply handing him the ball on a platter. Armero has no positional awareness and basically gives the opposition a clear path toward goal. When going one-on-one, the outcome seems inevitable. It's almost as though Armero simply stops moving, giving the ball away. For a team that's meant to be competing in both the Champions League and for the scudetto, it's just plain embarrassing.

Zúñiga is better as a full back than Armero, but is your 89 year old grandfather with the bum hip.  The first-choice Colombian is also better as a wing-back than a defender, although he's at least able to remember his defensive duties. Still, in the four matches when  Zúñiga started, his play was still scrutinized and criticized, primarily because he, too, is better suited to playing higher up the pitch, and his positioning was still allowing the other side to slip in behind and threaten the defense. And who can forget that generous own goal he gave to Dortmund?

Camilo isn't a permanent answer. In order for Napoli to truly play the 4-2-3-1 formation preferred by Rafa Benítez, the club is going to need to prioritize bringing full backs this January. Well, a decent center back to partner Raúl Albiol wouldn't go amiss, but the first area of focus should be finding players that fit the system -- and that means fullbacks rather than wingbacks.

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