From Afterthought to Stalwart: How Spalletti Resurrected Lobotka

It has been an inspiring start to the season for Napoli. Between an away victory at the Bentogodi on the opening matchday and a routing of Monza at home, the southerners have already scored nine mostly-brilliant goals. The Partenopei lost the services of longtime pillars Lorenzo Insigne and Kalidou Koulibaly, yet, they still possess a devastating left winger and an unyielding centre back with a knack for goals. But aside from stunning impact of summer signings Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Kim Min-jae, manager Luciano Spalletti has succeeded in lifting the dust off Stanislav Lobotka, who has finally become a key figure in the starting lineup.

Underwhelming Start

The diminutive midfielder has been at the club since January 2020, but only recently began to display the type of performances that prompted the Azzzurri to sign him in the first place.

During Carlo Ancelotti’s disappointing spell at Napoli, the legendary manager uncharacteristically played a 4-4-2 formation, so he and his staff decided they don’t need a large number of central midfielders in the squad. So when Gennaro Gattuso took over following the sacking of his old mentor, the management bolstered his midfield with two winter signings.

Even though Lobotka was the more reputable arrival due to his impressive spell at Celta Vigo, Diego Demme’s solid work ethic expectedly earned him Rino’s favor, while the Slovakian was relegated into a benchwarmer. Perhaps he managed to showcase glimpses of talent during his mostly brief cameos, but they too few and far between.

Glimmer of Hope

Following the departure Gattuso, Napoli appointed the vastly experienced Spalletti as his successor in the summer of 2021, which offered a glimmer of hope for the struggling Lobotka who must have been seeking an exit at the time.

Almost immediately, the Tuscan manager spotted the midfielder’s distinguished traits. Perhaps he saw flashes of his old favorite Claudio Pizarro in the Slovakia international – another short midfielder who possessed a stunning ability in holding up the ball in the middle of the park and drive the play forward.

Nonetheless, Lobotka somewhat maintained his status as an afterthought at Napoli despite his improved spot in the pecking order. After all, the former Inter and Roma manager still preferred to rely on the services of André Zambo Anguissa and Fabian Ruiz in the double pivot.

But with the latter now supposedly on the verge of completing a switch to Paris Saint Germain, this could well be Lobotka’s time in the sun.

New Season, Fresh Start

We’re only two rounds into the new campaign and drawing conclusions remains ill-advised at this premature stage of the season. Yet, all early signs point towards an exciting campaign at the Diego Maradona Stadium, with Lobotka acting as a stalwart in the middle of the park for Spalletti.

The former Celta Vigo man left us all in awe following two fabulous displays at the expense of the hapless Verona and Monza. Against the Gialloblu, he stunned the hosts with goal following a elegant solo effort. Facing the Serie A newcomers, he dictated the play for the Partenopei and provided an assist for the indomitable Kvaratskhelia.

With Tanguy Ndombele added to the mix, Spalletti could be tempted to thrust his new signing next weekend. But at this point, it would be a grave mistake to sacrifice Lobotka in favor of any other player.

At the age of 27, and with a contract running until 2025, this timing is now right to start building a midfield around the former Ajax U-21 starlet, whose brief stay at the famous Amsterdam academy clearly didn’t go to waste, as evidenced by his marvelous skills with the ball at his feet.

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