Sempre! Tactical Analysis – Sarri v Ancelotti

“You can’t control the talent. You can only provide the right information for them to achieve what they want to achieve; then it is up to them” Carlo Ancelotti writing in ‘Quiet Leadership’

The pre-season friendly against Dortmund was the best I have seen Napoli play since Sarri’s version of gli azzurri ran out of steam in February this year. Being honest, however, this is the most excited I have been about Napoli for a very long time. Today I’d like to explore why I think Ancelotti’s tactical approach is one that is healthier, long-term, than Maurizio’s Sarri’s famed approach.

First of all, a disclaimer: I love Sarriball, I loved the way we played and, as a club we owe the man a lot. The facts remain, however, that Sarriball left us with no trophies. Ancelottismo has to potential to unlock the trophy cabinet – and this is why…

Individual Tactical Responsibility

Sarri’s drones on the training pitch and microscopic approach to the detail of his 4-3-3 is now the stuff of legend. He drilled XI players into exactly how to play this system and the intensity of his training sessions are well documented. Problems arose, however, when teams worked out (particularly in his third year) how to play against his approach. I’d like to call this the ‘master-plan’ method – a genius coach has his master-plan and players are indoctrinated into how to fit in to this. The responsibility comes from the auteur and, in this case, that was Sarri.

Watching the Dortmund game last night, I saw something different. Led by Diawara, I saw players openly communicating with each other on the pitch. Verdi and Ounas regularly swapped with each other and the midfield trio of Allan/Diawara/Rog and later Grassi/Hamsik/Fabian interchanged their defensive and attacking responsibilities by talking to each other. There was an explicit example of this in the first half when Allan, Diawara and Rog took it in turns to break into the Dortmund half and press the Dortmund goalkeeper and defenders. This was arranged by themselves.

Another quote from Quiet Leadership really jumps out to me in this respect:-

Your job is not to motivate the talent – they should find this within themselves – your job is to not demotivate them.”

Tactical Flexibility

Sarri’s Napoli were experts at his 4-3-3 and it was interesting to see his Chelsea team seem rather helpless to stop Guardiola’s Manchester City passing through them in the English Community Shield last week. Very little tactical tweaking was done and the 4-3-3 remained, master-plan not entirely communicated to the squad after only three weeks of work.

Ancelotti’s Napoli, however, moved between a variety of systems. With the ball, we went with either a 4-3-3 with wide forwards, a 4-3-2-1 with the wide men tucked in or a 4-2-3-1 with one of the central midfield trio moving into a No.10. Without the ball we moved into a solid 4-5-1 formation with the wide forwards working hard to press the ball and/or track back or move into central defensive areas. Ancelotti was trusting his players to move between these systems. From my stream, I couldn’t see if it was Mr Ancelotti who was instigating these changes or whether it came from players on the pitch. In reality it is probably both.

Leaders on the Pitch

Eric recently wrote an excellent piece exploring five questions about this Napoli team. One of these was about leadership in the squad and last night’s friendly answered this in the form of a moderately unlikely source. Ancelotti’s flexible approach requires leaders on the pitch to communicate instructions and there was one player who was clearly doing this. The 21 year old, Amadou Diawara. I see him as key to our season and for a player so young to be such a central figure on the pitch was fantastic to see. Ancelotti’s individual training sessions have clearly paid off and Diawara is my bet for Napoli’s player of the season.

Conclusion – some respect for Ancelotti the tactician

I understand why Sarri gained so many advocates but some of the negativity towards Ancelotti has surprised me. He’s much more of tactician and, with his focus on players taking responsibility for the shape and drive on the pitch – he could be a breath of fresh air for this squad who have, for three years, been pawns in a master-plan instead of masters of their own destiny.


By Frank Sidekick

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