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Karan Tejwani writes a detailed scout report about Piotr Zielinski, Napoli’s impressive midfielder
Napoli have been undergoing a renaissance under Maurizio Sarri over the last 20 months and have brought the glitz and glamour back to Naples after a rather inconsistent spell. With bright, young footballers coming through and a wave of positivity running through the Stadio San Paolo, the Patronepei managed to finish second in Serie A last season, and are set for another top-two finish this season, as well as making it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League, valiantly losing to title holders Real Madrid.
Despite losing star forward Gonzalo Higuaín to Juventus last summer, they have kept the core of their side with captain Marek Hamšík, centre-half Kalidou Koulibaly and forward Dries Mertens. They have also had a few smart summer recruits to bolster their aspirations this season including the Polish duo of Arkadiusz Milik and midfielder Piotr Zieliński – the latter played under Sarri at Empoli, and has impressed when given the chance. Zieliński has played in Serie A all his career, and has added an extra spark to Napoli this season. In addition to that, he racked up many suitors with the likes of Liverpool and Atlético Madrid apparently interested in his services.
Zieliński comes from a family of footballers and was destined to make an impact in the sport. His father was his coach at his youth side Orzeł Ząbkowice Śląskie, while his brothers Paweł and Tomasz are also professional footballers. Born in Ząbkowice Śląskie, a small town near Wrocław, Zieliński cut it in the sport at a very young age, earning trials at Dutch giants Feyenoord and Hereenveen, while at local side Lubin.
Honed by the legendary Polish football icon Franciszek Smuda, Zieliński rose through the ranks at Lubin and at the age of 17, was signed by Serie A side Udinese, who had scouted him at a youth tournament, for €100,000. Zieliński would represent the Udine-based club’s youth setup for a whole year and impressed many while he was there. However, he wasn’t quite able to cut it with the senior side, making just 20 appearances in all competitions over two seasons, and was shipped out on a temporary deal to emerging Empoli, who had just been promoted to the top division in the 2014-15 campaign, and would play under Maurizio Sarri.
Zieliński would become a prominent member of the Empoli midfield at just 19-years-old and was the first name on the team sheet in most games, even after Sarri left for Napoli in 2015. In his two-year loan spell with the club, he would play 66 times, scoring five in the process and catching the eye of many. He was uninterested in remaining with Udinese upon his return to the club and amidst several rumours, Zieliński signed for Napoli in the summer of 2016, reuniting with former boss Sarri.
The midfielder, who turns 23 in May, has also represented his national team across all age groups ranging from the Under-15s right up until the senior side, but unfortunately hasn’t represented them at a major international competition yet. Poland boss Adam Nawałka sees him as the future of the country’s midfield and often pairs him alongside Paris-Saint Germain’s Grzegorz Krychowiak or Krzysztof Mączyński at the heart of midfield.
Zieliński operates from the centre of midfield, and is also capable of handling the more advanced role further up the pitch, and sometimes out on the right-wing. Fearless with the ball, he can carry it forward with speed and strength, attracting challenges and has a keen eye for a pass.
His offensive qualities and capabilities can be known with the numbers he has racked up this season. In his 27 league appearances this season, out of which only 14 were starts, he has scored four times and provided six assists for his team. When given the chance, he is the fulcrum of the side and their primary creative outlet. His smart movement and accurate passing abilities helps create space for himself and his teammates and that is evident with both club and country over the last two years.
Zieliński’s main attributes are his dribbling abilities, which as mentioned, attract defenders towards him and draw fouls. His control with the ball is sensational and he can drive forward and beat defenders at speed with his magnificent close control. Check the media below and notice the same: Receiving the ball deep in midfield, he beats three defenders and skips a challenge before playing it out on the wings. In a similar manner to Andrés Iniesta and Paul Pogba, he can do this with utmost ease and creates confusion among opposition defences.
Another one of his key attributes is his distribution and skill to pick out a pass from long range, which has carved out many chances for his team-mates for club and country over the years. Zieliński manages to get enough weight and spin on the ball when he is hoping to thread a low through ball and gets sufficient height and length in his long passes. He is also good at linking play when his team is on the move and holding on to the ball with his physical strength. In his 27 appearances this season, Zieliński has managed a decent pass completion rate of 87%, out of which 65% were forward passes, and has created 33 chances – which is a fair figure, considering he’s played just over 1000 minutes of football.
Check out his assist to his Poland team-mate Łukasz Piszczek in their recent World Cup qualifying win over Montenegro in the dying minutes of the game.
And, this threaded ball to his captain Marek Hamšík in Napoli’s 3-0 success over Inter Milan in December 2016:
But perhaps Zieliński’s most lethal attacking attribute is his long-range shooting, which has contributed to several of his goals. His smart movement and awareness on the pitch enables him to create space for himself and unleash a deadly shot. His ability with both feet is also quite a vital asset to this and all of his other previous strengths. Check his strike below from a game against Genoa.
Piotr Zieliński’s 177-centimetre (5’8”) frame does not add much to his defensive work, which has often been exposed in some of Napoli’s games this season. He also weighs at around 64 kilograms and is often beaten in half tackles and aerial duels. Sometimes deployed at the heart of midfield, his 36.67% aerial duel success rate (league only) does not contribute much to his team and is one of the aspects of his game he needs to work on.
Despite his prowess from long-range distances in terms of shooting, Zieliński is a rather poor finisher. He can get into position and make smart runs as well as create space for himself, but can’t quite finish chances that an ideal attack-minded player would. His shooting accuracy stands at a mere 40%, which is an inadequate record for a player of his calibre.
And he has also got to work on his patience as he is known for going into challenges unnecessary and rather late, thus giving away silly free-kicks and slowing down the motion of play. Despite earning a more offensive role in recent months, he hasn’t impressed too much when charged with his defensive duties, and that could cost his teams in the near future.
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