From Wonderkid to World Class: Fabian at the U21’s

There’s been a palpable increase in interest towards Napoli this summer because of various international tournaments but, so far, Fabian Ruiz has been the Azzurro to most set fire to public attention. After a very good first season with us, his form for the Spanish U21 team has more than hinted that he is making the step up from wonderkid to world class performer and his wonderful tournament, hosted in Italy, culminated in him taking the trophy home as well as the competition’s MVP award. I thought I’d go through his performances and bring together what he did and how people have reacted in anticipation of what could be his global breakthrough year with us in 2019/20.

The Stats

(All from www.whoscored.com)

Over the course of the tournament, Fabian has been playing, loosely, as one of the ‘2’ in a ‘4-2-3-1’ and, whereas this formation hasn’t quite clicked over in Napoli, he has positively excelled in this role with the Spanish youngsters. As we saw over the course of the past season, starting deep works well for Ruiz since his passing range and metronomic ability to dictate possession compliment his impressive engine which lets his bring the ball forward with technique and pace. The stats show what an extraordinarily complete midfield game he brought to the U21 competition – finishing in the top 3 for Spain’s goals, assists, key passes, dribbles, interceptions and tackles:-

Apps

Mins

Goals

Assists

Pass %

Key Pass

Dribbles

Intercept

Tackles

4

284

2

2

89

2.3

2.5

1.5

2.8

Team Ranking

8th

2nd

1st

10th

2nd

2nd

3rd

2nd

In more good news for us Partenopei, Fabian hasn’t been played to death – not featuring against Belgium and being subbed off in all of his games. Despite this, he’s played a vital, game-changing role in all of the fixtures providing either a goal or an assist in each game as well as maintaining a seriously impressive pass completion rate.

Opposition Formation Position Passes Pass % Assist Goals Mins

Italy

4-2-3-1

DMC

41/40

98

1

0

46

Belgium

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

0

Poland

4-2-3-1

DMC

101/93

91

0

1

75

France

4-2-3-1

DMC

48/39

81

1

0

85

Germany

4-2-3-1

DMC

71/60

85

0

1

78

The Games

Italy 3 Spain 1 (highlights here)

In many ways, the perfect match to watch for a Napoli fan. Fabian was a key figure in the first half, providing the pass for Ceballos’ beautiful opening goal and being the metronome for Spain at the base of midfield. It was noticeable how Spain trailed off after Ruiz came off in the 46 minute. From a Napoli and Italy perspective this was fine, though!

Spain 5 Poland 0 (highlights here)

One of the finest displays I’ve seen Fabian produce. Interesting to see him command on a pitch – he seemed a real leader, recovering possession, starting attacks, and surging forward from midfield. His long range shooting was incredible, hitting the woodwork twice and scoring an absolute screamer – he was millimetres away from a hat trick of left footed golazzo’s.

Spain 4 France 1 (highlights here)

Another world class display in a high pressure game against a high quality France side. Spain went behind to a penalty but Fabian was a key figure their calm, but brutal comeback. A more direct midfield display than the other two matches but his running, composure and technique on the ball provided a delicious assist for Olmo’s third.

Spain 2 Germany 1 (highlights here)

Fabian saved his best display of the tournament for the final – he scored yet another long range strike to give Spain an early lead. His shooting from distance continued to cause Germany problems and a spill from his strike led to Spain’s second. He also nearly finished a beautiful passing move that he began but his final shot went just wide. Revealingly, Spain conceded once he had been taken off the pitch to a standing ovation from the whole stadium.

The Future

Fabian’s first season with Napoli was a success but occasionally he would drift out of games or let the big occasion affect him – his performances in this tournament indicate that, when given responsibility he can really rise to it. As Ancelotti’s autobiography clearly (and repeatedly states) leadership is something he looks for in a player – don’t be surprised if Fabian becomes our central figure next season – particular if the 4-2-3-1 which Carlo experimented with at the end of the season becomes the norm.

With the mercato rumours surrounding James at #10, Fabian would compliment him excellently with a technically appealing but all-round midfield ability placed just behind him. However, an important final point to consider is that Fabian’s world class performances at the U21’s have involved him surging all over the pitch but starting from deep. This has been enabled by the defensive discipline and tenaciousness of Marc Roca who led the way in terms of interceptions and, positionally, staying more fixed in front of the back three. With uncertainty over Allan’s future, I’d say we desperately need cover or a replacement in the defensive midfield area – this will give Fabian the keys to light up the league like he lit up this tournament. Who this midfield should be is the subject for another article but I think ADL could do far worse than signing Fabian’s international team mate from Espanyol.


By Frank Sidekick

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