Can Duvan Zapata make you forget James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao?
Background Photo: Luigi Chiesa, CC BY-SA 3.0
When the Serie A season began, expectations were at a bare minimum for Duvan Zapata. After disappointing everywhere he went in Italy, hardcore fans considered him cursed. Gian Piero Gasperini disagreed. Now he and Atalanta are reaping the reward for the risk they took on the lanky Colombian forward.
Having signed him on a two-year loan with an obligation to purchase from Sampdoria, Atalanta were mocked unceremoniously when Zapata failed to score in his first ten matches. Just when he seemed a lost cause, a goal against former employers Napoli woke a different version of the 27-year-old. Despite losing, the goal served as the ultimate motivation.
The Cali native's survival instincts kicked in when backed into a corner. Realising another failure might be the end of the road, he shook off the cobwebs in his game to uncover something special. The man who struggled to score in almost the whole of 2018 cannot stop finding the net.
He’s scored for the past eight matches, swirling his way into the Serie A top goal-scorers chart. In his last 11, he has 15 goals. Boasting a minutes-per-goal ratio of 99 compared to Cristiano Ronaldo's 121, he's the hottest scorer in the league.
Not only did the Colombian find the net against Napoli, but later proved his ability by scoring past Lazio, Roma and champions Juventus. The performances against the Old Lady were especially admirable.
Zapata terrorised the Bianconeri defence in both their Serie A and Coppa Italia encounters, displaying impressive pace and strength. He troubled Leonardo Bonucci with his sheer perseverance and skill. While his Serie A heroics were hindered by Cristiano Ronaldo's equaliser, he made sure that wasn't repeated on Wednesday. The Colombian scored another brace, overpowering his defenders, blasting in the first and showing his opportunistic side in latching onto a strayed pass and whirling past Wojciech Szczesny to seal a 3-0 victory. These lethal displays have put him on the map. No longer can anyone doubt his ability.
After five seasons of turmoil in Serie A, Zapata’s finally producing the goods. At 27, he’s a late bloomer. He’s learnt from his experiences and read his Serie A opponents perfectly to start thriving in the second half. However, he shouldn’t allow the greed of moving to a European heavyweight plague him down again.
If he continues his fantastic run, many will consider buying him sooner rather than later. However, moving elsewhere involves settling into new conditions, which the Colombian can’t risk doing all over again. With Atalanta involved in the UEFA Europa League and gunning for a European finish this season, he’s right at home with La Dea
He’s also mirroring the impact shown by his national team captain, Radamel Falcao, in his first season in European football. Falcao scored 25 league goals in his initial season for Porto. Having scored 15 already, matching his countryman doesn’t look so impossible anymore.
Like Falcao, Zapata shows a complete striker's portfolio. He can run with the ball, has great close-control, dribbling ability, physical aptitude to parlay with tough defenders and commendable aerial ability. Like Falcao, he’s also a fox in the box when required, scoring a chunk of goals from inside the area this season.
At the rate in which he’s surging forward, his goals can take Atalanta where they wish. He’s looking unstoppable. That said, winning the Serie A Golden boot race is only a short-term target. Zapata is making his case to lead the line for Colombia at the Copa America. If his form holds, who could say no?