The Ancelotti era is well underway and Partenopei are celebrating many aspects of this encouraging, eye-brow led new dawn. Some are drinking in the minutes on the pitch that 2019 Ballon d’Or winner, Marko Rog is enjoying. Others (@kdschlewitz) are positively piqued at the emergence of Nikola Maksimovic as The Serbian Diego Godin. And all this is without thinking about Lorenzo’s Insigne new found streak as best Italian floating striker since a ponytailed Buddhist missed a penalty in Pasadena. For me, however, the most enjoyable Carlo-inspired new dawn is the emergence of Jose Maria Callejon: Traditional Winger Extraordinaire.
Ok so… I’m going to address the elephant in the room – I know Callejon is a divisive figure amongst us tifosi. Some folk (and not just @AzzurriFanPhil) bemoan his finishing at crucial moments and think his work rate is what is keeping him in the team. I’ve always been a fan, however, and was delighted when the ragazzi at The Artist Formerly Known as Sempre! christened him our Iron Man. As a committed and enthusiastic Jose watcher, I’ve seen his role evolve a lot under Ancelotti and the seeds of this evolution were planted towards the end of last season.
Callejon the Provider
All of our front three dried up in the Scudetto run-in under Sarri last season but Jose Maria kept his creative contribution to the team going throughout this period. This creative form continued into this season and he has 5 assists in the league (joint second overall) which is already half way towards his total in 2017/18. If you add his 2 assists in the Champions’ League that’s an average of 0.58 assists per 90 minutes. Impressive.
Winger or Wide Playmaker?
If one takes into account the Jose’s statistical impressiveness in relation Ancelotti’s use of 4-4-2 this season, it raises the question of exactly what is Callejon’s role in this team? As the graphic below illustrates, Ancelotti has continued the left sided bias that was the mainstay of Sarri’s team:-
This would suggest that Jose is not the focal point of creativity and is more of a winger than a wide playmaker. Positional maps from the ever reliable @11tengen11 can also help here. Against Roma, Callejon was wide and far up the pitch whereas Fabian, on the left side was further back. One Spaniard providing width and offensive creativity and another playmaking from a deeper wide position.
Some folk bemoan the fact that Callejon has not scored this season but I am not worried. His role has clearly changed – he is a creative winger and, in a 4-4-2 is it a coincide that both Mertens and Insigne are scoring lots of goals? They have a teammate who knows their games inside out and is capable of providing exactly the kind of service that leads to goals.
Finally, Ancelotti has brought out another side of Callejon that many of us were not expecting: leadership and influence. In his autobiography Ancelotti places great importance in finding different kind of leaders and he clearly sees Jose Maria as an on-pitch influencer. The one truly terrible performance of the season came against Sampdoria when Callejon’s presence was missed and, when things started to wobble against Empoli at 2-1 – his introduction as a sub steadied the ship and led to an assist.
Seeing him as captain against Udinese on 20th October was a little strange to begin with but it really makes sense: he’s been a mainstay of the team for over half a decade, gives everything to the team and, unlike some senior high profile players, has always found ways to re-invent himself into the new Napoli eras.
Long may this continue!