José Callejón, Napoli's Restless Winger: A 2019/20 scout report
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
A product of the Real Madrid academy, Jose Callejon first joined Napoli in the summer of 2013 and has been a key player for the partenopei since. This 2019/2020 Serie A campaign, however, he has been struggling to find the back of the net.
This tactical analysis and scout report breaks down the tactics and offensive and defensive contributions of Callejón at Napoli. With the use of footage, heatmaps, and data, this analysis will highlight Callejón’s strengths and weaknesses while teasing out the reasons behind his reduced goal frequency during this campaign.
Until December 2019, when Carlo Ancelotti was the Napoli manager, Callejón often played as the right-winger in a 4-4-2. The arrival of Gennaro Gattuso on Napoli’s bench shaped the formation into a 4-3-3, a system that Napoli had employed successfully during the 2015-2018 stint under Maurizio Sarri in both the Serie A and UEFA Champions League.
In Gattuso’s 4-3-3, Callejón occupies the right-wing position, with Lorenzo Insigne on the left and one between Dries Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik as the centre-forward. The image below, taken from the Sampdoria-Napoli game in February, shows Napoli’s typical line-up.
Callejón is known for being a hard-working and reliable player, as shown by the fact that managers have started him regularly over the past years. In seven seasons at Napoli, Callejón tallied 245 Serie A appearances out of 254 games, which adds up to him featuring in 96.5 percent of the games. This season, he has so far played in 23 matches out of 26.
Besides being accountable, Callejón has phenomenal passing abilities. With six total assists, he currently ranks sixth in Serie A in this category. This translates into an average of 0.31 assists per 90 minutes, or roughly one every three games.
Callejón’s ability to put a teammate in a position to score is partly due to the number of times that he attempts to cross. This season, he has registered 4.74 crosses per 90 minutes. This figure is far superior to the average of the Serie A attacking midfielders and forwards, which currently lies at 1.53. His refined passing skills also reflect in the number of key passes (also called “shot assists”) that he has recorded this season. He has so far totalled 56 key passes, ranking fourth in Serie A behind Fiorentina’s Erick Pulgar (63), Atalanta’s Alejandro Gómez (68) and Lazio’s Luis Alberto (72).
Great vision, composure on the ball and special connections with the front players allow Callejón to often pick out the best-positioned teammates. Callejón’s passes for left winger Insigne are one of the most recurrent attacking patterns at Napoli, as shown by the pictures below from Napoli’s game away at Sampdoria. The image on the right is particularly illustrative of this trend, as it shows Callejón finding Insigne’s feet through a very narrow, unpredictable passing lane.
The Callejón-Insigne connection works bidirectionally. When the Italian winger cuts inside of the field from the left side, Callejón is often seen attacking the space with quick bursts behind the defensive line. Callejón’s runs are timed so well that it is often hard for Serie A defenders to react promptly.
Callejón’s ability to elude tight defending comes from the fact that he recognizes the correct moments to attack the space behind the defensive line. The image below, taken from Napoli’s away game at Cagliari, shows an instance of Callejón’s decision-making when it comes to attacking the space.
Callejón initiates a three-man combination with a pass forward toward midfielder Fabián Ruiz. By having his back at the opponent’s goal, Ruiz attracts pressure from the Cagliari centre-back, who is now stepping out of the defensive line. By then, Callejón has not yet made a sharp movement to attack the space.
As the ball travels from Ruiz to right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Callejón recognizes that he can now exploit the space left vacant by the Cagliari centre-back that stepped on Ruiz. Because Di Lorenzo is facing forward with the ball at his feet, Callejón sharply sprints to attack the space behind Cagliari’s defensive line. Di Lorenzo hits a long pass for Callejón, who is now able to run at full speed toward the opponent’s goal.
When receiving a pass by his teammates, like in the case just mentioned, Callejón is very good at diligently taking care of the ball. Numbers say that he is a safe passing option for his Napoli teammates, as he gets dispossessed only 0.66 times per 90 minutes. He ranks fifth in fewest dispossessions among the Serie A attacking midfielders and forwards, curiously tying this standing with attacking partner Mertens.
Another strength of Callejón is his punctual defensive contributions. As a right-winger, Callejón has the job of picking up the opponent’s left-back, a defensive duty that he performs regularly in a game. In the pictures below, we can see him tracking back the opponent’s runners all the way down to Napoli’s box.
Callejón’s willingness to sacrifice for his teammates is also visible in the runs that he makes to cover when the right-back is caught out of position after an offensive play. In the image below, Callejón acknowledges that Di Lorenzo is out of position, and so he decides to take up the right-back duties by chasing the Cagliari striker down the right flank.
Callejón has significantly decreased his goal frequency in the past two years. While in the first five seasons at Napoli he averaged 0.3 goals per game, he has dropped this number to 0.09 in the last two Serie A campaigns.
Callejón’s low goal frequency is related to his tendency to maintain a wide position on the pitch. As a right-footed right-winger, Callejón has a natural inclination to carry the ball along the right flank rather than dribble toward the inside of the field, as left winger Insigne does instead on the other side. Callejón’s heat map from this season shows how he enjoys lingering on the right side while not being very inclined to drift toward the middle of the pitch.
This attitude to occupy wide positions is detrimental for Callejón’s goal-scoring chances in that it often prevents him from getting involved in the central areas of the pitch, where the most-dangerous attacking plays occur. As a result, Callejón’s shot frequency has been very low this season. With 1.4 shots per 90 minutes, he has so far attempted fewer shots than all of Napoli’s attacking midfielders and forwards, a statistic that has affected his likelihood of getting on the score sheet.
In the image below, Callejón is barely in the picture when Napoli’s left-back Mário Rui delivers the cross from the left flank. Even if the ball manages to get across the entire Sampdoria box, Callejón is too wide to attempt a threatening shot to goal from that position.
Similarly, in the picture below, which was taken from the second half of the Sampdoria-Napoli game, Callejón is completely out of the screen when midfielder Piotr Zieliński serves the ball in the box. As a right-winger, Callejón should attack the space on the far post, especially considering that Sampdoria has congested the near post with several defenders.
Despite Napoli’s many ups and downs during this season, Callejón remains a crucial player when it comes to supplying crosses and key passes to his teammates. His timed runs behind the opponent’s defensive line allow him to get in favourable positions to serve crosses for his teammates, whom he has so far assisted six times during this 2019/2020 Serie A season.
However, Callejón has not been a very proficient goal scorer this campaign, as suggested by his two-goal tally in 23 appearances. One of the reasons behind this low number is that Callejón often refuses to drift toward the central areas when his teammates deliver threatening crosses from the left side. Going forward, Callejón will have to make sure that he positions himself in favourable positions to shoot more often and bring his goal-scoring frequency back to the levels of his previous seasons at Napoli. Otherwise, he will risk losing his starting spot in the right-wing at the hands of talented players like Eljif Elmas, Hirving Lozano or Matteo Politano.
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