It's impossible to deny that Duvan Zapata has, when given chances, done quite well for Napoli. The Colombian striker has been a tremendous force at times for Napoli this season after showing flashes of potential a year ago, and is looking well worth the €7.5 million that Napoli spent to acquire him from Estudianted in Argentina 18 months ago.
Despite that success, though, many Napoli fans don't quite have a grasp of what makes Zapata work just yet. The Siren's Song is meant to be an engine not just to inform readers of what's going on with the club, but also to educate them on things about the sport or club that they may not have known before. So it's time to break out the scouting notes, and pull back the veil somewhat on everyone's favorite Colombian ...
DOB: April 1, 1991 (23) | Height: 6'2" (1.89 meters)
2014/15 Season: 20 appearances (9 starts)
7 goals, 2 assists
Strengths: The first thing that strikes you about Zapata is that he's big, and very strong. At 6'2" he's as big or bigger than most of the defenders trying to mark him, and with his ability to "play tall," not having to hunch over to keep his balance like many bigger players do, he plays bigger than his size. His leaping ability makes his size an even more valuable asset, turning him to a valuable weapon on crosses and set pieces.
Zapata is also very strong and surprisingly quick and athletic for his size, assets that he uses to his advantage on a regular basis. We've all seen the goals he scores with his pace and power, bulldozing through a defense, dropping defenders who try to challenge him like rag dolls. Or this goal from Monday's Sassuolo match, when he takes on six defenders, falls over, gets up, and scores anyways.
He's also not just a goalscoring striker, either. Zapata is an excellent linking player in building up an attack, showing very good passing and creative ability, something you don't necessarily expect from a "big" striker. He also provides a fair bit of defensive value, pressing well from the front and tracking back with surprising aplomb thanks to a strong work rate. Zapata is a very well-rounded player, and that's a tremendous asset for a club like Napoli.
Also a positive, and not something often considered, is that Zapata doesn't seem to take much playing time to round in to form after being absent from the field for awhile. Some players, strikers especially, seem to need ten or fifteen or even twenty minutes on the pitch to get in to the flow of a match as a sub, or if they become a short-term starter they don't always "gel" with the rest of the side for a couple of matches. Not so for Zapata, who seems to pick things up and get on a level with his teammates almost right away. For a player who's mostly a backup right now, that's a very valuable skill to have, because it lets him play at a high level at virtually a moment's notice when called upon to contribute.
Weaknesses: Despite his obvious qualities, Zapata still has a sense of rawness about his game, a lack of complete development in technical and physical aspects that's concerning to some extent. Sometimes it's as though we're watching a 19 year old still learning the ropes and getting used to being a first-team footballer. Trouble is, he's 23, turns 24 in a few weeks, and is running out of pre-physical peak development time.
That leads to some consistency problems, and questionable decision-making along with it. Zapata has the pure talent to become a top-shelf striker, but this late in the game it's a coin-flip as to whether or not he actually takes the steps he needs to reach that potential. Obviously he had to make a huge jump in league quality coming from Argentina to Italy less than two years ago, but that there's still this much lack of polish to his game is a little concerning.
Zapata also struggles with his finishing at times. His quality with powerful, driven shots is unquestioned, but that's a style of shooting that tends to be low-percentage as it's easy to shank strong shots off-target. Sometimes a softer, more controlled touch in required, but the Colombian is ... not great at that kind of shooting. He's gotten better at it than when he first arrived in Naples, but there's a long ways to go before he can be considered truly competent in that area.
Overall: Duvan Zapata is a very good striker with all the potential in the world to be a great one. The question is, though, will he ever become that striker? It's a difficult question to answer, especially at Napoli. As long as Gonzalo Higuain is around, the Argentine will be the unquestioned starting striker, limiting Zapata's playing and development time. Of course, if Higuain leaves, Napoli fans will demand he be replaced by a similarly elite striker, which leaves Zapata in the same situation no matter what.
If Zapata is given a real chance to be The Guy, the main starting striker, it's not at all unreasonable to think that he could be an elite striker for Napoli, at least with how they currently play. His goalscoring rate is an eye-popping 1.6 goals per 90 minutes this season, and while that obviously wouldn't hold up over an extended run as a starter -- normally, 0.5 goals per 90 minutes is considered to be very, very good -- but it's a great indicator of his ability to make the most of his opportunities.
Even if Zapata doesn't get that chance, though, Napoli should try to keep him because he's a great player to have around for a Champions League-level team like Napoli aims to be. Having his quality in reserve to help keep the main striker rested or to step in to the lineup in case of injury or suspension is immensely valuable, and his combination of qualities in that kind of role will be incredibly difficult to replace. Zapata may not be a starter, but that doesn't mean he's not an impact player in this Napoli team.