All is not rosy in the garden for Liverpool’s Champions League group opponents, Napoli.
The Ancelotti-coached Serie A team are in the midst of a crisis started by the club’s president film producer, Aurelio De Laurentiis.
De Laurentiis, concerned about his teams start to the season, attempted to force the Napoli squad on a training retreat in order to reverse their poor form. The San Paolo stadium team find themselves 7th in the Serie A table and second, behind Liverpool, in their Champions League group, but their playing personnel roundly rejected the demands of their president.
The Neopolitan’s squads reluctance to fulfil the demands placed on them has lead the clubs vice president — another De Laurentiis, Aurelio’s son, Edo — to publicly claim that they lacked balls and disrespected the city.
Comparing the current crop to legendary ex Napoli players, Emanuele Calaio and Francesco Montervino, De Laurentiis JNR said that the 2019 squad don’t respect the city as much.
“They were guys who loved the city and the club. They were brave,” he said.
‘They have many more balls, they faced very hard fields and they came out of it as big winners. The monthly salary must be respected, the shirt and city must be honoured. The fans come to the stadium for the players, so it takes respect, respect and more respect.”
Incensed by the meddling in first team affairs, Ancelotti was believed to have been close to quitting his role as first team coach.
Surely, in such a hostile and intrusive environment the Partenopei players will be casting eyes elsewhere in order to engineer moves away.
In Kalidou Koulibaly and Lorenzo Insigne, the Italian club has players who would be very much good signing’s for Liverpool.
However, the hypothetical addition from Napoli that would make the most sense for the Reds is the signing of Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz.
The €30M signing from Real Betis has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer of 2018, establishing himself to an extent that the club were happy to let their legendary Slovakian midfielder, Marek Hamsik, leave for the Chinese Super League.
Tactically intelligent, the 23 year old models his game — unsurprisingly — on Xavi Hernandez.
“I fell in love with football thanks to him. He was a pillar for Barcelona and Spain for so many years and I dream of following in his footsteps,” Ruiz enthused.
While the Betis academy products passing range is not quite as good — 1.6 key passes a game and accuracy rate of 89.9% in Serie A this season, which has resulted in an expected assist figure of 0.17 per 90 — as the legendary Catalan midfield metronome, it is his other attributes that make him a signing that could interest Jurgen Klopp.
Standing at 6’2″, Ruiz is atypically built for a Spanish midfielder — a role that conjures up images of the relatively diminutive David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Thiago and Andres Iniesta — and he uses his frame and power to good affect.
Completing 1.5 dribbles per game in Serie A, the 6 times capped Spanish international is not afraid to make a mark on the game in an attacking sense.
Defensively, showing the universality in his game that appeals to Klopp when assessing midfielders, the Napoli number 8 carries his weight, too; successfully making 1.7 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game.
Crucially, adding an element no other midfielder in the European Champions’ squad can boast, Ruiz is left footed.
With the narrow front three played by Liverpool, the onus is on the number 8’s and the full backs to provide the Reds’ width. With Ruiz, who has played on the left of a midfield four in the past, the European Champions could have a midfielder on the left of their midfield three that could match the job done by Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on the right.
The aforementioned Englishman typically play in the half spaces on the right hand side or close to the touchline(as shown by Henderson’s assist for Mane versus Manchester City), which mitigates for the lack of width given by the front three and gives the option to change the point of attack. This is a role the young Spaniard could fulfil, while also offering defensive protection to to marauding Andrew Robertson on the left.
On first glance, the Anfield side — with Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana, Henderson, James Milner, Fabinho and Oxlade Chamberlain — are well stocked in the engine room.
But with Lallana and Milner’s contracts dwindling down — Lallana’s expires at the end of the season, Milner’s the season after — and Henderson ageing, there may be a temptation to replenish the midfield options.
With Roma under pressure to meet financial fair play stipulations in the summer of 2017, Liverpool swooped in for Mohamed Salah for a relatively cut price fee of £36.9M showing that the club are happy to make opportunistic purchases.
The Reds’ next bit of Italian transfer market piracy should be to take advantage of the strife at Napoli and bring Ruiz to Anfield.