Internazionale – SSC Napoli: Koulibaly Red Card Allows Inter To Snatch Late Win (1-0)
Internazionale controlled the first 45 minutes thanks to some of the most intense pressing you will see all season. Naturally, that led to a drop-off in energy levels in the second half, putting Napoli in the driver’s seat. A red card for Kalidou Koulibaly swung the balance of the game once again, and ultimately allowed Inter to win at the death.
Tactical analysis and match report by Om Arvind.
Second-placed Napoli and third-placed Internazionale faced off in the San Siro, in a game of grand importance for the title race. League leaders Juventus had just slipped up versus Atalanta, meaning that Napoli needed a win if they were to continue to have serious thoughts about lifting the Scudetto.
Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti approached this critical Serie A match-up by making a curious decision – he played right winger José Callejón at right back. The regular in the position – Elseid Hysaj – was not injured, and the same could be said for back-up Nikola Maksimović.
Ancelotti must have made the switch for tactical reasons, which was somewhat understandable. Hysaj and Maksimović have been largely unimpressive this season – especially on the offensive end. Nevertheless, one must wonder whether it was a wise to make such a drastic change in such an important game.
Inter’s manager Luciano Spalletti took no risks and played his strongest eleven. Mauro Icardi started up top between Ivan Perišic and Matteo Politano. They were stationed ahead of a midfield of João Mário, Marcelo Brozović, and Borja Valero. Behind the midfield were left back Kwadwo Asamoah, center-backs Milan Škriniar and Stefan de Vrij, and right back Danilo D’Ambrosio. Samir Handanović started in goal.
Internazionale control the game with their intense pressing
Right from the kick-off, Inter applied an aggressive and well-drilled high press. Whenever Napoli decided to build out from the back, Valero stepped out of midfield to help Icardi challenge center-backs Kalidou Koulibaly and Raúl Albiol. Icardi most often chose to press the latter, leaving Valero to deal with the former.
Inter Milan’s intense high press suffocating Napoli’s buildup.
The Inter duo handled their duties in perfect coordination with each other and the rest of the team. As soon as Icardi lunged onto Albiol or signaled for a press, Valero burst out from a deep position to hound Koulibaly as if his life depended on it. Almost immediately, wingers Perišic and Politano stepped up to mark fullbacks Mario Rui and Callejón, while Brozović shifted from his deep position to breathe down the neck of Marek Hamšík.
As a result, Napoli could barely string three passes together. Most of that was thanks to the exhaustive efforts of Valero and company, but Napoli also had themselves to blame. Many of the players failed to scan their surroundings before receiving the ball and Callejón, in particular, proved to be extremely unreliable at passing into midfield. Even when Callejón moved into an attacking position after Hamšík got injured – Maksimović replaced Hamšík and slotted in at right back – Napoli still looked overwhelmed.
Napoli switch through multiple unsuccessful pressing schemes
Napoli tried a press of their own, but it was not nearly as successful. This was because Ancelotti tried to match Inter’s buildup three-versus-three after defensive midfielder Brozović dropped between the center-backs.
Napoli’s attempt to negate Inter’s numerical superiority.
Ancelotti achieved this by initially asking Hamšík to move out of midfield and man-mark Brozović. The Slovakian attempted to cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. the midfielder he had left behind, but a quick lateral pass and short combinations down the flanks soon exposed Hamšík.
The Napoli captain’s situation was not helped by the fact that Rui and Callejón were not particularly aggressive in tracking wide men Politano and Perišic. This made it significantly easier for Inter to pass down the wings.
Thus, Inter began to regularly progress into the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. making Hamšík hesitant to follow Brozović as diligently as Ancelotti would have wanted. Allan even switched roles with Hamšík from time to time, but it made no difference.
Napoli again changed their scheme again when Hamšík left the field injured. This time Ruiz pressed de Vrij, Insigne marked Brozović, and Milik stuck close to Škriniar. But this turned out to be even more ineffective, as it left Napoli’s flank more exposed than before.
That type of situation is why managers do not normally attempt to create a three-versus-three scenario in a 4-4-2 formation. Instead, most coaches prefer to negate the opposition’s numerical superiority with positional superiority. They do this by getting their teams to force a pass wide, before asking their strikers to mark the defensive midfielder and center-back closest to the ball. This leaves the center-back on the side without the ball as the free man, meaning he is only accessible via a longer pass. But since it takes a while to complete a long pass, it gives the far side winger enough time to ensure adequate pressing access.
Thankfully for Napoli, Ancelotti’s gamble did not cost them, for Inter had only one strategy for attacking the box – like they have done all season – crossing. Koulibaly and Albiol held firm time after time, conceding only one header to João Mário and a scrap in the box to Icardi late in the first half.
Internazionale tire and Napoli regain their rhythm
Unsurprisingly, Inter could not keep up their intensity in the second half. Valero’s long-winded pressing movements from midfield slowly dissipated, leaving Icardi isolated and giving Koulibaly more time on the ball.
Napoli got some of their mojo back, this way, as Koulibaly took advantage of his situation by quickly facilitating passes to the left, where Ruiz dropped to help Rui against Politano. When Inter right back D’Ambrosio closed in, Zieliński provided an outlet back to the center and passed back to Koulibaly. With Inter’s structure sucked into the wing, the Senegalese center back then played inch-perfect vertical passes into the feet of Napoli’s forwards.
Nonetheless, Napoli were unable to capitalize, much like Inter in the first half. Mario Rui just does not possess the requisite quality to provide good deliveries from the left and Insigne was completely off. The diminutive Italian seemed intent on making every pass a killer ball and was unable to complete more than a few of them.
Their similarities with Inter ended there, however, as Napoli lacked a similar press that would’ve allowed them to keep piling on the pressure. Thus, even though they had more possession and looked to be the better team, Napoli had to hurry back and defend in their own half every time they lost the ball. Perhaps even more significantly, this also meant that Napoli had no way to stop counterattacks.
Koulibaly’s red card puts Inter back on top
That weakness eventually led to a sequence that indirectly cost Napoli the game. In the 80th minute, Koulibaly felt forced to foul Politano on a fast break and received a yellow card. Frustrated, Koulibaly sarcastically clapped at the referee and received a second yellow.
Napoli immediately receded into a low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. and held on for dear life. They only created one chance from this grim situation, but it proved to be the biggest opportunity of the game. After an errant Inter pass, Napoli broke and flowed towards goal. Insigne’s shot deflected off the goalkeeper and fell at Zieliński’s feet. The Pole obliterated the ball but aimed it straight at Kwadwo Asamoah, who made a clearance off the line.
Two minutes later, Inter got a lucky deflection of their own. Unlike Napoli, they made no mistake, and substitute Lautaro Martínez scored to win the game. This is another clear example of how random the outcome of a football match can be sometimes, though Inter won’t mind. They’ll happily take the three points in their quest to overtake Napoli in second place.
Some blame can certainly be placed on Ancelotti for the way his press was cut apart, but his players did not help him. They were erratic and sluggish and showed a complete lack of composure near the end of the game. Once Koulibaly was sent off, the rest of his teammates followed his lead and Insigne ended up receiving a direct red card when the game was almost over.
Ironically, the one positive that can be taken away from this result is Koulibaly. Though he ended up costing his side the game, he was by far the best player on the pitch. He won countless aerial duels, completed three interceptions, produced two superhuman blocks, and was Napoli’s best ball progresser. When taking his entire season into account, it is not very controversial to say that he is currently the best center-back in the world.
Inter, on the other hand, don’t need to look hard to find positives. Though they fell away dramatically for most of the second half, a win against the second-best team in the league will always be something to be delighted about. Even so, they would do well to reduce their reliance on crosses – they top the league in attempts per game – moving forward, as it limited their offensive effectiveness versus Napoli.
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