SSC Napoli – Internazionale: High-octane Napoli overwhelm Inter’s weak buildup attempts (4-1)
Carlo Ancelotti’s high energy, pressing side proved to be too big a handful for Luciano Spalletti’s Inter. As the match progressed, Inter did manage to find some respite following drastic changes, but too much of their play kept revolving around the same patterns of poor buildup play and lots of long crosses.
Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.
With their fate settled, Inter would have been hoping that Napoli would have had half an eye on their holidays with this being such a crucial game in their chase for Champions League football. Now with Atalanta Bergamo on blistering form, as well as AC Milan and AS Roma closing the gap, Spalletti’s side are in grave danger of letting the position they held for so long slip through their fingers.
For Napoli, from the side that beat SPAL 2-1 last weekend, goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis was handed his eighth Serie A start of the season. In defense, Faouzi Ghoulam and Raúl Albiol were introduced, as was Dries Mertens, in place of Amin Younes up front.
Hot off the back of Monday’s 2-0 victory over Chievo Verona – just the second win from their last six matches – Spalletti decided to name a completely unchanged team, with Icardi still on the bench.
Napoli’s progression attempts trump Inter’s
In contrast to Inter’s far more languid efforts to build play, Napoli were much quicker and sharper in their approach. Against an Inter defense in a medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. which, surprisingly, lacked defensive support – even just positionally – from the wide midfielders (Ivan Perišić and Matteo Politano), Fabián Ruiz and José Callejón, their opposite numbers, were able to drop in and receive without any pressure.
What afforded the two Spaniards these spaces up and down either halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. was the positioning of the fullbacks on either side. With Inter’s center-backs already occupied, Ghoulam and Kévin Malcuit’s width meant neither Danilo D’Ambrosio nor Kwadwo Asamoah could afford to step out without leaving a huge gap behind them.
It was only the third minute when this nearly paid off for the hosts. Callejón received the ball diagonally through the lines, turned and instantly spread it wide to Malcuit. Mertens then burst into the pocket of space Milan Škriniar had left behind him when going to press Callejón. The drilled cutback was perfect but Mertens’ finish was not.
Inter attempted much of the same tricks but with far less frequency and with far less success.
Initially, they would begin very deep, with Marcelo Brozović becoming the central, holding midfielder, leaving Roberto Gagliardini slightly further ahead. The aim, against a relentless Napoli press was to access Radja Nainggolan, who, as the number ten, was the spare man between the lines. However, Inter massively struggled just to recycle it within themselves against the unbearably intense Napoli press to begin with.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side split their midfield to press in more of a diamond. As the two strikers plus one midfielder narrowed more zonally to block Inter’s two holding midfielders, the away side were subsequently forced wide. Here, the overload was no longer a concern as the far-sided striker closed in on the previously spare Inter midfielder. This saw Napoli go man-for-man without affording any of the Inter players a second of time to look up.
Napoli’s pressing setup.
Whereas most of their methods of finding Nainggolan massively failed, the one way in which they did have some success was through wall passes A one-touch pass that quickly sends the ball back to sender. In the meantime the sender has quickly moved into free space, and he momentarily escapes pressure. from the wide midfielders. Just like Napoli had been doing with their wide midfielders, Perišić and Politano for Inter would look to receive inside and lay it off into one of the attackers. The end aim looked like being to feed it into Lautaro Martínez, who could then lay it off for Nainggolan.
The issue then was that there was no significant wide presence and there were very few runners ahead, so Nainggolan often took the shot from range on, and wasted a good attacking situation.
Napoli’s pressure pays off
Unlike with Inter, Napoli’s buildup was far more fluid and coherent despite sharing many similarities. Instead of playing out to the fullback and then to the attacker, they would do the reverse. This way, the fullback was forward facing now having drifted past his marker and, if the pass was poorly executed, they only lost the ball in a wide area, not in the center like Inter’s often led to.
Following one of these passages of play, there was an overhit cross as Napoli shifted it from right to left in attack. Perišić picked up the ball but ignored Lautaro, the option just ahead of him, and fed it back to Asamoah, but his misplaced ball into the center was asking for trouble. Fabián was first to the loose ball, laying it off for Zieliński, as he unleashed an unstoppable strike from twenty-five-yards out.
It was a surprise that Inter held out until half-time, as the aforementioned themes continued to loom over the visitors for the following half hour.
Every time Inter reached Zone 14, right in front of Napoli’s box, the ball was played out wide, rather than into the box.
Spalletti’s half-time changes put a bit of life back into his team
Not only did Icardi replace Politano at the break but the coach also switched to a 3-4-1-2 setup, that saw Perišić move across to right wing-back.
Now, Inter were affording their deeper players slightly more time in buildup, and because of that, they could execute their zipped balls into the feet of attackers with greater purpose and higher accuracy. The fact they could begin their attacks higher up was evident in the fact that over sixty per cent of passes within their own third came in the first half.
The most common passage of play now involved getting the ball into Perišić, who could then knock it around the corner for the ball-sided forward.
The slight problem with this was the precision it required. Since Perišić’s passes into the forwards had to be lofted as well in order to get there, the Argentinian forwards were subsequently forced to pull off fancy flicks in order to lay it back off, which inevitably saw many turnovers in possession.
These constant attempts at the move also neglected the potential threat of Nainggolan in the midfield area. He was being completely bypassed now. More often than not he was just waiting on the last line, rather than providing a free option closer to the ball.
Despite what Nainggolan failed to bring consistently enough – runs through the inside channels from deep – Inter were still able to use these to their advantage. Maybe because of how little it featured in the first half, Napoli left the channels between their fullbacks and center-backs wide open, which, in this half, enabled the central midfielders and even D’Ambrosio to burst forward and exploit these gaps.
Nainggolan’s overloading run into the channel between Napoli’s fullback and center-back.
This impact of the wide overloads now taking place was clear in the lead up to D’Ambrosio’s chance. He and another of the forwards tucked in, leaving Perišić free out on the flank. With more bodies in the box now, Icardi managed to peel off the defenders and chest it across for D’Ambrosio, who guided the ball back across on the volley to the far post but his effort was denied.
A free-for-all finale
It was not long at all before Mertens’ goal to make it 2-0 set the motions in gear for a hectic final thirty minutes.
As they did at the beginning – but especially so now against Inter’s limited width in their 3-5-2 shape – Callejón’s deep cross managed to meet Mertens’ run, who managed to get ahead of the two center-backs having begun his run from a deeper position.
Then, Inter using their tweaked setup to create more crossing positions in the final third, they were inevitably winning more corners, and they were having a good time creating chances from them, too.
Napoli’s zonal shape narrowed towards the near post, meaning loose balls towards the back post were always easily claimed by Inter players. Lautaro picked up one of these loose balls and fired across to the far corner of the goal. Were it not for one of the most extraordinary pieces of anticipation and blocking off the line from Kalidou Koulibaly, Inter might well have been back in it.
Only five minutes later was Lautaro afforded another chance like this. This one fell for him in a much kinder position but this time the crossbar was his enemy.
Napoli did not lay down and cower, though. Fabián and Mertens were constantly making runs down the ball-side following turnovers, which were causing Inter huge problems. The concerning aspect of Napoli’s definitive third goal was that none of the three defending Inter players ever got close to their opponents, which eventually lead to a tap-in for Fabián following Arkadiusz Milik’s saved attempt.
The Spaniard got his second not so long after, as substitute Lorenzo Insigne sucked D’Ambrosio inside before hurdling the challenge. Mertens then found the overloading runner as Fabián struck it thunderously in at the near post.
Icardi converted a soft penalty late on but it was never going to be enough.
At the end of the day, the side at the races were the side who had nothing to play for, as can sometimes be the case. Inter still remain in a straightforward position, however, most of this position is due to their earlier accumulated points rather than recent showings on the pitch. Inter know that a win at home to in-form Empoli – who may still need a result, depending on the outcome of the Fiorentina – Genoa game – on the final day will secure a second season of Champions League football.
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