Debuts are never easy, especially when the match in question has a lot on the line. But when it comes to the shift put in by new Napoli left back Ivan Strinic, this debut was a performance to be proud of.
Strinic was handed a tough task in marking Lazio's chief playmaker, Antonio Candreva, who started on the right wing for the Biancocelesti today, and handled it admirably. The Croatian international kept Candreva well in hand all match long, effectively nullifying Lazio's ability to build up play with something other than long balls, especially in the second half after Crisitian Ledesma was subbed out.
Even earlier in the match, when Candreva was seeing a lot of the ball, Strinic had the situation under control. He'd give Candreva a little buffer to gather the ball in, apparently knowing the Italian's preference for taking a touch or two to settle and pick his pass, then closed him down quickly to put pressure on him and unsettle him on the ball. That lead to sloppy passes and crosses that did Lazio no good. When Candreva tried to dribble past Strinic to get space, Strinic complied -- by practically ushering Candreva in to blind alleys, pulling him away from the box and giving the rest of Napoli's defense to cover Lazio's other attackers.
It was very intelligent defensive work, and an absolute treat to watch unfold. You could almost see the gears in Strinic's head spinning as he figured out each move and counter-move he had to make to keep Candreva in check.
In attack, he was equally efficient. Strinic got forward very well and linked up smoothly with Napoli's attacking midfield, showing more skill and composure on the ball than you typically expect to see from a fullback. He didn't put in a ton of his trademark crosses, which was a little disappointing, but did support the attack very well, serving as a reliable outlet in case the attack started to break down, and efficiently recycling possession to let them try again. He especially worked well with Marek Hamsik in the last half hour of the match after the Slovakian came on, something we'll have to keep an eye on in later matches when both start.
Strinic also had a shot of his own, after bursting in to the box to capitalize on a through ball from David Lopez late in the first half. A little hip-fake completely crossed up Dusan Basta, giving Strinic the space he needed to cut in and unleash a wicked low drive with his right foot, which was surprising considering that he's almost overwhelmingly left-footed. Still, the shot required a good reaction save from Etrit Berisha to keep out, and if he can do that more in the future... well, maybe one of the concerns from before his signing won't be as much of one moving forward.
Strinic actually registered the most touches and passes of any Napoli player, a testament to his dogged defensive work and constant availability in attack. With two tackles, three balls intercepted, six clearances, and two blocks, he tallied a pretty decent haul of statistics for those who judge a player's performance that way.
If this is how Strinic handles a debut... well, it makes you want to see what he does once he's settled in all the more.