SSC Napoli – Lazio Roma: Impressive All-round Performance Secures Win For Napoli (2-1)
Napoli delivered an impressive performance against Lazio Roma and kept Juventus in sight at the top of the league table. The final score suggests a close game, but with a bit more efficient finishing, Napoli would have dealt with Lazio a lot earlier than they eventually did. It was quite remarkable that the home team only scored twice, as they struck the woodwork a grand total of four (!) times throughout the match.
Tactical analysis by Rowdy Nossent.
Before the start of the game, it was clear that this could be an interesting match. Both teams had won three of their last four games, including convincing displays in the Coppa Italia round of last week. Napoli are chasing Juventus, and thus practically need a victory every week to keep their title aspirations alive. Lazio Roma are still challenging for European qualification and with a win against Napoli a Champions League qualification spot was still feasible.
Napoli’s veteran manager Carlo Ancelotti missed some of his most important players. With the absence of Kalidou Koulibaly, Allan and Lorenzo Insigne – suspensions – and Marek Hamsik – injury – the Italian head coach had some decisions to make.
Goalkeeper Alex Meret was protected by the center-back duo Raúl Albiol and Maksimović, partnered by fullbacks Kevin Malcuit on the right and Mario Rui on the left. Fabián Ruiz and Amadou Diawara formed the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. as they were flanked by José Callejón and Piotr Zieliński. Ancelotti decided not to change anything in this tactical approach, as he went for the usual 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 formation. The name of the shape is dependant on how you prefer to call Dries Mertens. Is he a striker, or is he a number ten, playing around the in-form Polish striker Arek Milik? You decide.
Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi did not change anything in his tactics either, opting for his team’s customary 3-5-1-1 formation, in which he made one alteration in comparison with his preferred line-up. Right midfielder Adam Marušić was suspended. In his stead, Inzaghi opted to field Senad Lulić as right wing-back. This shift meant that Jordan Lukaku was playing on the left. The other positions were occupied by Thomas Strakosha in goal, Luiz Felipe, Francesco Acerbi and Stefan Radu as a back three and Lucas Leiva as the number six. Just in front the Brazilian, Marco Parolo and Sergej Milinković-Savić played as central midfielders. Up front the main striker Ciro Immobile was partnered by shadow striker Luis Alberto.
Napoli dominates first half with high quality combination football
As the title of this article already suggests, Napoli was the side that had the initiative in this match. Although Lazio would try to press the home side, the Napolitans never seemed threatened by this approach, insisting on keeping passes short and simple everywhere on the pitch. Some teams see themselves exposed in dealing with high pressing, but the quality that Napoli displayed for that matter was at times simply exquisite. This made things very difficult for Lazio, as they simply were not able to deal with situations where Napoli had possession of the ball.
Therefore, Lazio often were forced back 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. in which they mostly shifted along with the ball, but they almost never managed to force Napoli in a situation that lead to loss of possession. This was partly because of the quality the home side showed in combination play, but was also due to how Lazio organized defensively.
Inzaghi obviously instructed his wing-backs to stay with Napoli’s wingers, instead of stepping out on Napoli’s fullbacks. Instead, Milinković-Savić would step out to right back Malcuit and Parolo did the same when Rui would come into play. The outcome of this was that Napoli always had an extra player in the central midfield area, as Mertens dropped deeper at times. In other words, Napoli dominated the central areas of the pitch because of the numerical advantage they had, and this was actually the cornerstone of their domination.
Lazio’s build-up is impotent due to Napoli’s trap
Was it only Napoli that had the ball in this game? Obviously not, as Lazio had around 40 percent of possession throughout the whole match. The difference between the two teams was not only the execution of the passing game, but also the way in which the teams dealt with situations when the opponent had the ball. In contrast to Lazio, Napoli pulled off a successful way to make life difficult for Lazio when the latter were in possession.
Typical way of pressing by Napoli.
As depicted above, Ancelotti had instructed his men to press high, focusing on cutting off the passing lanes to Lazio’s right side. When Lazio attempted to build-up from the back, Milik positioned himself in between right central defender Luiz Felipe (who was replaced by Bastos in the first half) and right wing-back Lulić. José Callejón would push up higher along with Dries Mertens, now forming a very narrow front three. Zieliński would drop slightly deeper and tuck inside to reinforce the midfield. This forced Lazio to play over the left side and enabled Napoli to effectively press them in a relatively small space.
Ironically, one of the few times Lazio tried to play over their right side resulted in a goal for Napoli. The home team more or less improvised a pressing scheme, with left back Rui stepping out and winning the ball. A high-quality counterattack ensued, ending with a perfectly weighted through-ball by Dries Mertens, as Callejón was enabled to make it 1-0 in the 34th minute. Three minutes later it was Arek Milik who made it 2-0 with a great free kick, after already hitting the woodwork twice in the first half.
Lazio is lucky to come close to Napoli
For the second half Lazio made a change, by throwing on Joaquín Correa for Jordan Lukaku. In terms of formation, this meant that Lazio were playing with an open right side. Marco Parolo had the instruction to drift into this space whenever his team were playing over this right side. However, it became clear that Lazio now aimed to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the left side, using the extra attacking player they now had.
Despite having a bit more possession, Lazio still had problems with disturbing Napoli’s patient build-up play. The away side was pressing even higher than they did in the first half, but Anclotti’s side did not seem to be bothered by this approach. Goalkeeper Meret participated very well in build-up situations by staying calm under all circumstances and this gave Napoli a huge asset in terms of resisting the high press. This resulted in situations where Napoli were happy to soak up the pressure and playing out in the space left behind by pressing Lazio players, making it very difficult for the away side to get more grip on the game.
How Napoli lined-up when playing out from the back under pressure from Lazio
By using the space created by the more attack-minded Lazio, Napoli were getting the best opportunities too. In the second half they would hit the woodwork twice again, which put their total on four throughout the whole game.
It is one of those football clichés: if you don’t score, your opponent will. This became reality for Napoli, when Lazio’s striker Ciro Immobile managed to get a goal for his team. In a situation where Lazio overloaded the left flank with the use of Correa, the latter put Immobile in a promising position. With a clean finish the Italian striker left Meret without a chance. In general, Lazio’s attacking tactics were not as effective against Napoli’s defense. Often their attacks ended with putting in a cross from the left and this became a bit predictable.
For five minutes or so, Lazio had the illusion of making the score level again, but after Acerbi got his second yellow card – after Milinkovic-Savic lost the ball in front of his defense – it was all over for Lazio. With twenty minutes to play, Napoli did not settle for a 2-1, as they kept attacking Lazio’s box in order to put this game to bed. Given the extra spaces Napoli got out of their numerical advantage, it was no surprise that they got a few opportunities from their attacking aspirations. As said, it was quite bizarre that they did not get some extra goals out of this, but a lack of speed in their decision making was the culprit more than one time in the last phase of the game. Mertens and Milik had chances to score for their team, but both players waited too long with their attempt on goal.
In a match where both teams were eager to win, they both lived up to their aspirations using attacking-minded tactics. For the neutral watcher it was definitely a joy to watch. A lot of chances out of high-quality passages from the home side eventually gave them the deserved win. If Napoli is able to get a hold of the form they displayed against Lazio, they will not have too much problems with securing their second place in the league table. However, next week a serious test is coming up, as they are playing AC Milan away.
It is to be praised that Lazio is not a team that leans on their defense, but their proactive pressing tactics have to be more coherent to get a result against top opponents. In this match they made some costly mistakes in their build-up too, resulting in the first Napoli-goal and the red card. Nonetheless, with Lazio sitting in front of their own goal, this game could never had been so fun as it had been now. Football fans should count their blessings with managers like Inzaghi, that go out and try to make something happen in games against opponents that are regarded the better team.
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