Barcelona or Real Madrid: Where should Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz go?


Every time Barcelona look at Fabian Ruiz today, it probably leads them to regret. Their attempts at signing the Spaniard reportedly failed in 2017 and since then, his value has shot up. Now that Real Madrid’s interest has firmly emerged, the Catalans would be aware that this could turn into an even bigger regret. It is no secret that Zidane wants a new midfielder, especially if Madrid are to back up the fact that Norwegian online bookmakers are pricing them as favourites for this season’s La Liga title. Given that Madrid have not won the title for the last couple of seasons, the favourites tag in the eyes of the bookmakers is interesting – Barcelona are also not happy with their midfield and the bookies have noticed this in their pricing.

Since joining Napoli from Real Betis in the summer of 2018, Fabian’s stock has risen sharply. The partenopei paid out his release clause of €30m to Real Betis, whose chain of quality attacking midfielders has kept going.

Last season’s impressive performances at the Stadio San Paolo helped Fabian break into the Spanish national team earlier this year. He won the Under-21s EUROs this summer, playing alongside Dani Olmo, Pablo Fornals, Dani Ceballos and Mikel Oyarzabal.

Carlo Ancelotti often played him at the left of a 4-4-2 shape. But he was mainly used centrally in the same formation. He has often been used as the deepest midfielder too- in Allan’s absence.

Having players like Fabian, Piotr Zielinski, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon has helped Ancelotti make Napoli a very tactically flexible team on paper. They can change from a flat 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 in seconds. A player like Fabian has been central to that.

Fabian constantly would drop centrally when playing on the left, making it a midfield three. His heatmap against Genk in the Champions League would show that.

Fabian Ruiz heatmap v Genk (via Whoscored)

He operates almost like a left-sided midfielder allowing one of the two forwards to come wide and Jose Callejon pushed forward to form the front three. Fabian has often done the same thing by playing on the right too.

As Napoli continue to lack a proper ball-winning midfielder in the Wilfried Ndidi mould, Fabian continues to do well. He may not be the fastest on the pitch, but he has completed the sixth-highest number of dribbles per game for Napoli- 1.7.

The Spaniard’s technical ability stands out. He has also made the fourth-highest number of key passes at the club this season- 10. He has made 1.2 of them per game.

Fabian never gives the impression of being a defensive-minded player. But Fabian has made 1.2 tackles per game, making 1.7 interceptions per game too (via Whoscored). That isn’t his strength but his ability contribute defensively has helped Napoli many times when they change shapes.

For a player like that, a comparison to Luka Modric comes naturally. The similarities are stark.

Last season, both Fabian and Modric were involved in the same amount of goals- 9. They made exactly the same amount of dribbles per game- 1.

Their defensive contributions are quite the same too. Fabian made 2 tackles per game, while Modric made 1.4. The Spaniard made 0.8 interceptions per game while the Croat made 0.9.

Fabian played 2.3 dribbles per game going forward. Modric made 1.6. In a better season, the former would have probably done more in this regard.

Amidst these stark similarities, it is important to see that reports are dubbing Fabian to be Modric’s successor at Real. Perhaps, there is a feeling around Santiago Bernabeu that the former Betis man will be the perfect replacement for last year’s Ballon D’or winner.

Fabian has played in the same side as Ceballos in the past. It should be no concern that they can’t play together when the Arsenal man comes back next summer. Fabian played deeper out of the two. As Ceballos played as the attacking midfielder in the 4-2-3-1 shape.

As for Barcelona, Ivan Rakitic’s future seems further away from the Nou Camp. Fabian’s comparison with Modric’s Croatia teammate throws up a case of more attacking involvement for the latter. The defence involvement is quite the same overall.

Via Understat

A comparison of their metrics is enough to show that Fabian can be involved in creation than Rakitic even though the Croat can do the job that the Spaniard does.

But coming to how Barcelona play, the system can be structured. That has led to the struggles of players like Philippe Coutinho and Andre Gomes. They have failed to play in a system that restricts their freedom to move about freely and create.

Fabian thrives on that freedom and needs that to play at his best. He can improve more at Napoli if they do play a 4-3-3 with Fabian playing in between an attacking midfielder and a defensive midfielder. Real Madrid can promise that more than Barca could, considering the Catalans’ structured tactical system.

Bringing someone like Christian Eriksen or Paul Pogba is unlikely to affect Ruiz’s performance too. He can play behind them in the same way as he did with Ceballos for the Spain Under-21s this summer.

With Napoli trying to hand Fabian a new deal to increase his release clause, Real have to act fast. Or they might miss out on a player that their rivals would not use too well.