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The domino effect is very much real in Serie A right now, with Juventus buying Higuain (possibly Pogba was the first domino?), Napoli had some new found riches in which they had to find a replacement striker.

Napoli have had jackpot after jackpot with strikers since their resurgence, Cavani moved from Palermo in 2010 and left for the French capital with 104 goals in 138 games. Then Napoli re-invested the Cavani money in Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain, and he’s set to move to Turin with 91 goals in 146 games, with Napoli tripling their money for him.

Mauro Icardi is evidently no Gonzalo Higuain, he may have outscored the Turin-bound Higuain in 2014/15, but Higuain’s recording break 2015/16 has left Icardi in the theoretical dust. But is this still a good fit for Napoli and Icardi?

Comparing Higuain and Icardi

Gonzalo Higuain – Serie A career


Mauro Icardi – Serie A career


(note: OPTA only started tracking ‘big chances’ in Serie A last season)

Surprisingly, these actually look quite comparable. Now these are face value statistics, and conversion rates can be a pretty shoddy way to assess striking ability, but it gives you at least some image.

What sticks out to me re:Higuain is that his conversion rate has been pretty steady throughout his Serie A career, there was a bit of a dip during 2014/15, but that’s so many variables that could have caused that.

The thing that should stick out from the Higuain table is how his shot numbers skyrocketed when Sarri came in. In my opinion, the Italian is one of the top innovators in world football right now. He completely revolutionised Napoli’s system through a bigger emphasis on positional play, overloads and switches. Benitez’s pragmatic football left no legacy whatsoever in Naples.

Through Sarri improving Napoli offensively almost beyond recognition, it created an extra two shots almost for Higuain, which is huge. You can see it through his non-penalty goals per 90 numbers. More on how this links to Icardi later on.

Icardi definitely overperformed for 2015/16, there’s no doubt in my mind. A 28% conversion rate is absolutely insane and as is a 60% big chance conversion rate (for reference, the average conversion rate is 40%). Icardi’s scoring career is quite hard to assess from these numbers, you can get a rough idea of what could be his career conversion rate (18-20%, pretty good).


Here’s something for people who prefer more advanced analytics (myself included). I’m quite impressed by Icardi’s numbers, especially considering the absolute graveyard of a team he played. Inter’s midfield trivote of Kondogbia, Medel and Brozovic was completely uninspiring at almost all times during the season. I wasn’t a fan of Ljajic or Perisic on the wings, either. It’s so important to add context to stats, and the context here is that Inter played in a defensively minded team that was pretty pathetic from a creative standpoint.

Icardi in Napoli’s team

If you’d like something about Higuain in Juventus’ team, I wrote about that here.

Anyways, onto Icardi. Okay so we’ve established Icardi is a pretty good goalscorer, but it’s important to see how the fit is in terms of Napoli’s playstyle and Icardi’s playstyle.

Like I said, Sarri is one of the top offensive innovators in the game, he completely revamped Napoli with almost the same team that Benitez had at his disposal. What struck me about Napoli last season was their offensive flexibility. They were first for shots from counter attacking situations (144, 17 ahead of 2nd place Milan) and also first for shots from possession situations (101, 26 ahead of 2nd place Fiorentina).

So we’ve established Napoli are two dimensional in their attacks, but does Icardi need to be? Well, it’d certainly help. Higuain had 0.8 shots/90 from counter attacking situations (5.5 shots/90 in total), whereas Icardi had a measly 0.09 shots/90 (2/90 in total).

However, this is why it’s so hard to evaluate how a player will do in a new team. Inter had 118 shots from counter attacking situations (7th most in the league) and 62 from possession situations (5th most). But there’s just still a huge gap in the difference between Napoli and Inter’s shot volume.

Mauro Icardi had 0.2 shots/90 from counter attacking situaitons. It’s clearly lower than Higuain’s total, but then you have to consider Higuain was playing in a team that was set up to attack so much more efficiently than Inter were.

Will Icardi’s playstyle transfer over to Napoli? I say yes, but not all of it. I think he does struggle in counter attacking situations, especially when he receives the ball and has to bring others into the game.

However, Napoli are still an open play orientated team (open play ≠ possession situations) and Icardi does well in such situations. His shot numbers are low but I believe in a team that creates as many shots for their main striker as Napoli do, his goal scoring numbers will go up, but definitely not to 2015/16 Higuain levels.

So, is it a good signing?

I think yes. There are other clubs where I think Icardi would not have fit in well (I.E Arsenal), but Napoli is a great landing spot.

I’ve had an odd hunch that Sarri has been wanting to move to a two striker formation, even when those within Napoli thought Higuain was staying, Sarri was looking at first team strikers.

The Milik transfer looks all but done and I think Icardi – Milik is a great combination. You don’t see many supporting strikers nowadays with the absence of two striker formations but Milik looks to me like a supporting striker. He has the right associative play traits that Icardi lacks and I think putting him next to a poacher like Icardi can only do the both of them good.

So, in conclusion. Icardi’s scoring numbers are pretty good for someone who’s 23 and played in an absolute graveyard of a team from a creative sense. In the past, more shots hasn’t always equalled more goals for Icardi, but the problem with pure shot numbers is that it’s hard to evaluate the quality of these shots (will someone please make expected goals data public?).


Billy Wilkinson fell in love with Arrigo Sacchi's Milan without even being alive when they were at the peak of their powers. Now he writes about and analyses all things Calcio. You can find him on Twitter @BilbertoSilva

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