Easily the biggest question ahead of Napoli's new season -- even bigger than how will Rafa Benitez do leading the club -- is can new signing Gonzalo Higuain step into the massive hole left in the attack with the departure of Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain.
Until he finally steps on the pitch and starts playing we cannot really answer that question, so for the moment all we can do is get out our abacus -- or your calculator if you're a fancy pants -- and compare the production volume of Higuain and Cavani over the past several seasons.
I'm going to go back to the 2006/07 season when Cavani joined Palermo from Uruguayan side Danubio for €4.475 million. It's a good starting point because it's also the same season that Higuain moved from River Plate to Real Madrid.
Two young players with immense talent moving from South America to a major European league, it's as if destiny meant for these two player's careers to be intertwined at some point. While we don't get something as poetic as a straight swap with each replacing the other at their former clubs, we at least get to talk about one following in the footsteps of the other.
Thus we're back at the initial question.
The numbers seem to point to Higuain having the scoring chops to be able to have a comparable production level to what Napoli fans have come to expect from Cavani.
|Goals Per Game||0.48||0.53|
Higuain had a slightly better goals per game rate than Cavani and scored 19 more goals than Cavani in nine extra games. Basically they're even in terms of their goal scoring output. The big difference between the two players in assists, as Higuain have over twice the number of helpers compared to the big Uruguayan.
In fact those assists are easily the more glaring difference between the two players and why I feel that Higuain could ultimately be more successful at Napoli than Cavani, at least in terms of his ability to affect the overall game. The Argentine striker can pass the ball, it's one of his better skill sets along with strong finishing, good footwork and a solid hold up skills.
Rafa will likely be asking Higuain to do much more than just score goals and he's suited to playing a more versatile style of game. As long as Higuain can show the propensity for scoring big goals and having some monster performances that helped endear Cavani to Napoli fans, he should be just fine.
The biggest knock against Higuain is he's a virtual dunce when it comes to staying onside. There are few strikers in the world that have scored as many goals as the Argentinian who simply cannot seem to properly position themselves to avoid getting flagged by the linesman. Given the ability of Napoli's midfield to move the ball around and create chances, if Higuain can somehow figure out how to wait a tic before making his run, the sky's the limit.
It should be interesting to watch how quickly Higuain settles at Napoli and how well he works into Benitez's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation -- since expecting Rafa to change that is like hoping that America will one day embrace something other than a two-party political system -- will ultimately determine how successful he is.
I think he definitely has the pedigree and the skills, now he just has to deal with the pressure, which will be immense, and produce goals. If he starts slow or struggles for an extended period, you can bet that Cavani's "ghost" will begin to haunt him very quickly.