We already know he can play on either side of the back line, but can Camilo Zuniga do more than that? Rafa Benitez thinks so.
Many have wondered over the years what all Camilo Zuniga brings to the table for Napoli. The versatile wingback is naturally a right-sided player, but frequently played on the left in Walter Mazzarri's 3-5-2 variations. Now moved back a tick in a more traditional four man back line, not everyone is certain as to how well Zuniga will fit in to a role as a left back, especially with the talented Faouzi Ghoulam around.
What didn't help matters any last season was the mysterious knee injury that kept Zunig out of the squad from October almost until the end of the season. That cost him a valuable year of learning how to play in the system installed by Rafa Benitez, and while he was doing fairly well before the injury, you could tell that he wasn't quite completely comfortable in his role just yet.
Now that Zuniga is back and just about fully healthy, Rafa has big plans for the Colombian international. With Napoli's manager having faith, for now, in Christian Maggio, Henrique, and Giandomenico Mesto on the right and Ghoulam on the left, Rafa is contemplating the possibility of using Zuniga as a Swiss army knife of sorts, capable of playing a variety of positions and roles on an as-needed basis.
More specifically, Rafa wants to add Zuniga to his attack rotation, coming in off the wings as a more direct backup to Jose Callejon on the right than what he has currently. It's a thought that makes sense; Zuniga's pace and technical skills in wide areas is pretty valuable in attack, and in certain matchups against top-shelf fullbacks, his work rate and defensive technique would be invaluable for defending from the front.
If you're familiar with Borussia Dortmund, think of how Kevin Großkreutz is utilized by Jürgen Klopp. Großkreutz is naturally a winger, but his versatility and sky-high work rate allow Klopp to use him frequently, playing all up and down both flanks as both an attacker and defender, and even in central roles at times. In fact, when star right back Lukasz Pisczek went down with a season-ending hip injury, Großkreutz stepped in to the lineup for him and Dortmund hardly missed a beat.
If Zuniga can get in to this kind of role for Napoli, it will only serve to increase his value for the side. With Ghoulam figuring to be the primary left back and the three-headed team on the right, he needs to do something to get more minutes, and this would be the perfect way to do it. Be it working frequently as a super-sub, starting to deal with a specific threat, or rotating around regularly to keep other players fresh, embracing this kind of utility role is the best way for Zuniga to work his way in to Rafa's plans for now.
Putting Zuniga in a not-starting-every-match role also not a bad way to manage fitness levels if last year's knee injury is going to be a longer-term problem. We already saw him held out of one World Cup match this summer because of fitness concerns and frequently look noticeably worn towards the end of Colombia's matches. Zuniga's reliance on pace and positioning in defense means that when he wears down, he loses effectiveness at the back, so avoiding that as much as possible is key.
With so many matches looming this season and all of them high-pressure given the weight of expectation, keeping as many players healthy and ready to play at their best is key. This role would help Zuniga do that, and depending on how it's employed could see him help other players stay fit as well. It's a win-win for player and club, and that's always a good situation to find.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Rafa Benitez
- Camilo Zuniga