Napoli (4-3-3) J.Reina, M.Rui, K.Koulibaly, R.Albiol, E.Hysaj, P.Zielinski, Jorginho, Allan, L.Insigne, D.Mertens, J.Callejon
Roma (4-3-3) Alisson, A.Kolarov, F.Fazio, K.Manolas, A.Florenzi, D.De Rossi, K.Strootman, D.Perotti, R.Nainggolan, C.Under, E.Dzeko.
After Juventus’s last gasp winner against Lazio half an hour or so before the game kicked off, the players and supporters of Napoli could be forgiven for losing a little faith and feeling the pressure of their match with Roma increase dramatically. The visitors had only won three of the last ten league matches, effectively ending their challenge for the league, whereas Napoli were looking to make it an eleventh consecutive victory in Serie A and keep that four point gap between themselves and Juventus.
Roma Set Up & Tactics
As usual, Napoli dominated possession throughout the match (66.4%), therefore Roma were looking to find solutions to stop Napoli’s fluid build-up and penetration in the final third. Out of possession, Roma set up in a 4-1-4-1 mid to low block. They used a space-orientated man-marking system, meaning that the players defended the spaces in and around the midfield area but as soon as a Napoli player received the ball inside the block, they closed them down – ideally keeping Napoli facing away from goal. This would hopefully force Napoli wide, where Roma were happy to press aggressively and engage in 1 vs 1 battles:
- Rui & Under / Insigne & Florenzi
- Hysaj & Perotti / Callejon & Kolarov
In a previous match report, I highlighted the benefit of Koulibaly stepping forward and disrupting the low block with a run or a pass. Roma looked to press both centre backs when in possession, too mixed results. Both centre-backs initially look to play vertical passes into one of the midfield three, who usually try to position themselves in behind or to the side of the opposition midfielders.
Although Roma’s shape was solid, at times they struggled with their press. In the right hand picture, Koulibaly is in possession, Rui is wide with Under picking him up, Florenzi is picking up Insigne and Dzeko is stopping the pass back inside to Albiol. Nainggolan goes to press the ball but distance is too great and the other Roma players are not tight enough and the ball goes to Rui and into Zielinski who takes up his position in the space vacated by Nainggolan.
Both Zielinski, Jorginho and Mertens were able to find space in behind the block and in between the lines. (Mertens & Insigne rotated well, creating disruption in Roma’s backline).
Jorginho was looking to dictate and found space well, being able to turn and face forward in behind the first press. However, he began to find it increasingly difficult to get on the ball and as the first half wore on, Roma began forcing Napoli to play in incredibly tight spaces and began to regain possession through enforced Napoli errors.
Napoli tried to utilize the wide areas to their advantage, using their Mario Rui & Elseid Hysaj in the build-up phase by having them take up high and wide positions. Rui often received the ball near the halfway line, thus inviting pressure from right winger Cengiz Under.
This created space in behind for Rui to get on the ball and play forward. Napoli usually overload the left hand side and this how the first goal transpired.
Rui remained in his high and wide position during a Napoli’s build up phase. Insigne peeled off Florenzi into De Rossi’s territory, who initially won the ball back but Zielinski arrived to make it a 2 vs 1 against Florenzi. When Rui received the ball from Zielinski he cut the ball back inside to Insigne, who takes up such great positions in the penalty area and he dispatched with the aid of a deflection.
However, Napoli recognized Roma’s tactics and began to adapt and looked to disrupt. On occasions Insigne would take up the widest position, looking for a diagonal ball from Albiol or Jorginho, engaging Florenzi in a 1 vs 1.
When overloading the left hand side, Napoli can often look to isolate the opposition on the opposite side of the pitch. Usually leaving Hysaj and Callejon in a 2 vs 2. In this situation, Napoli look to work the ball back inside during the oppositions transition across the pitch. (See Allan’s strike against SPAL).
In addition, once Napoli got into the final third and Roma had recovered their shape, Napoli looked to get Jorginho on the ball and with his quality of passing, he was able to pick out the trademark run of Callejon. Who would pull the ball back – On two separate occasions Napoli did this, only for Insigne to be denied by the outstanding Allison.
Roma only managed 33.6% possession throughout the entire match, mainly due to Napoli’s excellent counter-press. Napoli’s shape is a 4-5-1 come 4-1-4-1.
Their midfield five provide cover in all vertical zones across the pitch in advanced areas. Mertens was blocking the passing angle to De Rossi and then Strootman (Roma’s free player) during their build up phase.
When Roma regained possession they looked to work the ball long and direct towards Dzeko. Dzeko is a strong and physical player and holds the ball up well. This allowed Roma to bypass the Napoli press, granted they picked up the first or second ball. Additionally, they constantly looked to get Rui isolated 1 vs 1 with Under. After Napoli’s opening goal, the Roma equalizer stemmed from an uncharacteristic error from Jorginho, but credit to Roma who were narrow and compact. Once Nainggolan got the ball under control, Under was already on the move on the outside of Rui. He received the through ball and got a huge slice of luck when his left footed chip deflected of Rui and looped over the helpless Reina.
For Roma’s second goal, they patiently progressed with the ball up the field, all eleven players touching the ball before Dzeko rose highest and powered the ball home. On reflection, Napoli were far too passive and allowed Roma to build up with relative ease down Napoli’s right hand side. When the ball breaks back to De Rossi, Nainggolan pulls away – dragging out Koulibaly and Insigne. Rui is occupied with Under, who after combining with Nainggolan sets the ball to Florenzi whose cross is converted by Dzeko, who had peeled onto Albiol’s blindside.
The Second Half – Frustration & Resilience
Into the second half, Napoli continued to try and break down the Roma block and created good opportunities in advanced areas. However, Allison was on hand to make several excellent saves, this coupled with Roma’s confidence in their defensive shape and Napoli’s heightened nerves and anxiousness resulted in a lot of mistimed and misplaced passes which allowed Roma to counter attack (usually down their hand side).
Hamsik was brought on for Zielinski around the sixtieth minute and almost made an instant impact with a wonderful bit of movement and interplay on the left hand side. Insigne pulled wide and Hamsik ran into the space ahead of him, dragging Strootman with him in the process. As the ball is worked back to Jorginho, Insigne drifts inside and receives a pin point accurate pass from Jorginho and unfortunately hits a tame effort straight at Allison. As Napoli pushed for an equalizer, I noticed Allan trying to take up more advanced positions on the right hand side of the pitch during the build up phase:
The third goal came from a long ball forward from Allison, Nainggolan picks up the second ball and plays the ball out to Kolarov. Dzeko receives the ball inside and it is a really poor piece of defending from Rui who gets his body shape all wrong, Koulibaly isn’t close enough and Dzeko bends the ball out of Reina’s reach into the bottom corner. In addition, I felt Callejon fatigued very quickly and this left Hysaj with little or no cover on the right hand sid and thatis where Roma attacked in the final parts of the game.
Milik’s Return & The 4-2-3-1
One of the only highlights for Napoli fans would have been the return of Arek Milik. After his injury woes, it was great to see him back on the pitch and this also gave us a glimpse of the 4-2-3-1 formation. This allowed Mertens to play in behind Milik and he was able to get on the ball in between the lines, where he is most effective. His consolation goal came from taking up a clever position on the edge of the area, Milik occupying the central defenders and Merten’s finally beating Allison.
By then, a Rui error had gifted Perotti a fourth goal, killing the game and administrating a blow to Napoli’s scudetto challenge.
The statistics show Roma had eleven shots, five shots on target that yielded four goals. In contrast, Napoli had a total of twenty six shots, thirteen on target returning two goals. Now, statistics don’t paint the entire picture as I felt Roma grew into the game and were organized, resolute and exploited Napoli’s frailties in defence. However, I felt Napoli were fluid in their early attacks, created excellent opportunities in advanced attacking areas and a mix of poor combinations, finishing and the excellence of Allison could have seen the game go in a different direction.
I felt if Napoli had got the second goal, they had the quality to stay in control of the game. Whether people like it or not, Napoli need a plan B against tougher opposition and the return of Milik gives us that option to go 4-2-3-1. Freeing up Mertens to create and penetrate in behind the lines.
By Craig Nisbet Follow @Nizzy_23