After spending most of his professional career in Serie B, Italy’s second division, Francesco Caputo successfully returned to Serie A in the 2018/19 season, scoring 16 goals for Empoli. This season, he has so far netted 13 goals and recorded 3 assists in 23 appearances for Sassuolo.
This tactical analysis in the form of a scout report looks at the tactics and offensive movements of Caputo during this 2019/2020 Serie A campaign. With images, maps, and data, this analysis tries to understand the reasons behind Caputo’s recent breakthrough in Serie A as well as point out areas for potential improvement.
Caputo is a center-forward that measures 181 centimeters and weighs 74 kg. Rather than on his physical prowess, he relies on quick thinking and spatial awareness to make a difference in the final third of the pitch.
Sassuolo manager Roberto De Zerbi employs Caputo as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, usually supported by right-winger Domenico Berardi, former Chelsea’s left winger Jérémie Boga, and attacking midfielder Filip Đuričić. Below is a picture of a typical Sassuolo line-up.
Form and Finishing
Numbers say that Caputo, now 32 years old, has recently entered his prime in professional football. Last year with Empoli, he started all 38 Serie A games without missing any of the 3,420 minutes. He was the only outfield player to have played every single minute of the Serie A 2018/2019 season, as the other three players to do so were goalkeepers Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Lukasz Skorupski (Bologna), and Samir Handanovic (Inter).
Being able to physically and mentally sustain all those games in such a high-intensity league is one of the indicators that Caputo is at his career peak. His goal-scoring frequency is another one. So far in this season’s 23 games, he has scored 13 goals, well exceeding his 9.21 expected goals. He ranks seventh among the league’s top scorers, tying this position with Atalanta’s Luis Muriel.
Despite being a right-footed player, Caputo has scored seven goals with his right foot and six with his left, showing that he is lethal at finishing chances with either foot. What is more, all of Caputo’s 13 goals this season originated from inside of the 18-yard box, the place where he unleashes his killer instinct. The map of his shots (below) shows how he rarely fires from outside of the box.
Offensive movements and positioning
When making offensive movements to attack the space behind the opponent’s defensive line, Caputo likes to drift toward the left side of the pitch. This heat map shows how the centre-left side of the final third has been particularly explored by Caputo’s runs.
The heatmap goes along with the statistics about Caputo’s dribbles in the final third. Despite being a centre-forward, Caputo is confident to dribble the ball inside of the pitch from the left side, as suggested by the map about his successful dribbles in the final third. On the right image, we can see Caputo making one of those runs attacking the space on the left side of the box.
Caputo makes those wide runs especially in situations of transitions or counterattacks. However, when Sassuolo has clear possession of the ball in the final third, Caputo tends to stand in between the opponent’s centre-backs. By doing this, he attracts two men on himself, thus allowing his wingers and attacking midfielder to exploit the space left vacant in front of the opponent’s defensive line.
It is when his teammates have time and space to execute a pass forward that Caputo decides to make a sharp, decisive movement. He either sprints to attack the space behind the defenders or, alternatively, show underneath for post-up plays and quick combinations at the edge of the box. The picture below shows how Caputo likes roaming in between the opponent’s central defenders, waiting for the right moment to move.
Since he is not a particularly fast striker, Caputo positions himself as high as he can on the pitch, so that he can cover the shortest possible distance when it is time to attack the space on a through pass from his teammates. When doing this, however, Caputo has to make sure that he is in line with the deepest defender to avoid being offside.
The images below are taken right before the first and second goals that Caputo scored against Brescia in Sassuolo’s 3-0 home win in March. Notice how, in both instances, Caputo is barely in line with the deepest Brescia centre-back at the time his teammates assist him with a pass.
The first goal that he scored against Roma in Sassuolo’s 4-2 win showcases the same tendency. When teammates Đuričić turns and faces forward with the ball at his feet, Caputo is on the same line as Roma’s deepest centre-back Gianluca Mancini. As the ball travels, as shown in the static image below, Caputo has already gained a few meters of advantage over Mancini, not to mention that this has yet to turn his body.
Whereas this clever positioning often gives Caputo an advantage over the opponent’s defenders, it has also caused him to fall victim to the offside trap multiple times this season. He currently ranks seventh in offsides among the Serie A players, with 0.79 per 90 minutes.
Room for Improvement
One of the most important areas where Caputo could improve his game relates to his aerial game, as none of this season’s 13 goals have come off headers. In fact, of the 48 shots taken so far this season, he has only attempted two headers, whereas 21 shots came off the left foot and 25 were struck with his right. The picture below summarizes Caputo’s shots this season.
Caputo’s tendency to not look for heading finishers is arguably one of the reasons why Sassuolo has recorded the least amount of crosses in this Serie A season, averaging 10.52 crosses per 90 minutes. Knowing that their number 9 prefers to finish off chances with his feet, the Sassuolo players may opt for on-the-ground deliveries and through-balls rather than long crosses aimed at finding Caputo’s head.
Caputo is currently in his prime years as a professional footballer, as showcased by the 16 goals from last year and the 13 goals scored so far in this 2019/2020 Serie A campaign. While his finishing is equally deadly with the left and right foot, Caputo does not have a tendency to score with headers. Working on improving his headers, along with becoming more disciplined in timing his offensive runs to avoid being offside, would turn him into an even more complete striker.
Standing 11th with 32 points in the table, Sassuolo enters the last stretch of Serie A games from a comfortable position. However, Caputo, who is 32 years old, probably wants to keep scoring goals if he hopes to impress Italy national team manager Roberto Mancini. Next summer’s UEFA European Championship could be the last chance for Caputo to be called up to represent his country at a major tournament.