Napoli came in to this match after suffering a heartbreak exit from the Champions League, despite winning 2-0 against the in form Gunners and amassing a total of 12 points in the group stage, which included a victory over Napoli. Rafa Benitez’s men were now relegated to the Europa League had the task of making the most of their league campaign in order to play Champions League football again next year. A 3-3 draw last match day against Udinese saw Juventus and Roma pull away at the top.
Inter Milan started the game four points behind Napoli. After three consecutive draws (Bologna, Sampdoria and Parma) in the league, Inter look to close the gap and give Napoli a fight for their much yearned Champions League spot. With Fiorentina leapfrogging in front of them after a 3-0 victory against Bologna earlier that day, three points against Napoli was massively crucial for Walter Mazzarri’s men.
Napoli 4-2 Inter Milan
Napoli: Rafael, Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Reveillere (Pandev 90′), Inlet, Dzemaili, Callejon, Mertens (Armero 86′), Insigne, Higuain (Behrami 78′).
Inter: Handanovic, Campagnaro (Icardi 82′), Ranocchia, Rolando, Taider (Kovacic 61′), Alvarez, Jonathan, Cambiasso, Nagatomo, Guarin, Palacio.
The Midfield Banks
Inter’s midfield comprised of two wingbacks in the form of Jonathan and Nagatomo pushing up field to construct a crowded five man midfield with Alvarez and Taider positioning themselves symmetrically on either side of Cambiasso.
Napoli, on the other hand had a more central approach with Inler and Dzemaili holding and Insigne, Mertens and Callejon comprising the main attacking threat.
The Inter midfield placed themselves specifically between the two banks of the Napoli midfield i.e. right behind the attacking trio of Insigne, Mertens and Callejon and in front of Inler and Dzemaili. This gave Inter an advantage in numbers in midfield allowing them to passes the ball laterally with ease. Although Inter enjoyed majority of the possession in the middle of the park, they were unable to break through the centre of the Naopli team with Inler and Dzemaili showing excellent displays of positional discipline. As a result, Inter were unable to find a channel down the middle and were forced to play the ball to the flanks.
Benitez’ men counter Inter
Napoli often struggled to get their passes going from the back, losing possession far too easily along the way. With majority of the possession with the away team, Napoli were forced to play on the counter and they did that in exquisite fashion.
As mentioned earlier, the Inter midfield placed themselves between the two banks of the Napoli midfield which created a lack of cover for the Inter defence when the attacking trio of the Napoli midfield got the ball. Once the ball was beyond the Inter midfield, who more often than not were fairly high up field, it set up a perfect counter for Napoli who saw themselves with three pacey attackers in Insigne, Callejon and Mertens with Higuain being the icing on the cake. Napoli played the ball quickly up field setting up this advantages situations, the second and third goals being testimony to that.
Inter’s passing was largely lateral, as already touched upon, with little success in penetrating Napoli’s defence. Inter thus had more possession (56%), but failed to make full use of it. Napoli were effective with the amount of possession they saw. Napoli took advantage of Inter’s lack of success through the middle, winning possession back and quickly countering. They did a fantastic job of transition from defensive zones to attacking zones.
In the above example, Napoli’s defenders were able to win back possession and start a counter from the edge of their own box. Often the defenders were left to deal with wide play from Mazzarri’s side, which wasn’t very effective. The midfielders then took possession and looked to counter. Higuain spent much of his time alone in Inter’s half, offering his side the option of a route one counter. Napoli midfielders however, usually, opted to take the ball directly into the attacking zones.
The Inter Defence
Any defence with a lack of cover will be vulnerable and Inter’s back three were another example of that. A formation with a three man defence requires exceptional discipline and coordination, two necessities that Inter critically lacked. While Nagatomo and Jonathan were important to provide a different shape to Inter’s attack, it compromised their effectiveness in defence. It’s the biggest flaw of the 3-5-2, ineffectiveness of the full-backs in both departments.
As seen above here, the man in possession (no circled) had a number of attacking option to supply to. A big developed down the left side to exploit as Inter failed to have enough men over to provide cover. This is what Napoli took advantage of in their quick counters. Inter were invited forward, but shut out completely, the home side won possession and immediately started a counter.
All the blame cannot be hurled at the defence as they were left susceptible to swift counter attacks that were fabricated from quality players that the Napoli attack was composed off. With Campagnaro and Rolando often venturing forward when the Inter midfield had pushed up high, this left an already weak defence vulnerable to yet another counter attack where Napoli had the man advantage.
Inter concentrating on wide positions while attacking
With Inter hitting a wall every time they tried to play down the middle, playing down the flanks seemed the only other route to getting the ball into Napoli’s penalty area. On Inter’s left flank, Alvarez often got the better of Maggio, drawing him out and playing Nagatomo on the overlap. Inter’s right flank saw Jonathan combining with Taider to bring out Reveillere in a similar fashion
Although both of Inter’s goals originated from the right flank, it is worth mentioning that majority of the threat remained from the left flank with Cambiasso playing perfect passes out wide to Nagatomo who then combined with Alvarez to provide Napoli a potent threat to deal with. Ricardo Alvarez, in fact, created the most goal-scoring opportunities among all the players on the field (4).
Where does that leave them?
On the back of an emotional exit from the Champions League, Napoli have shown that they are willing to fight all the way for that third Champions League spot. The two goals conceded can be pinned down as shabby defensive work, something which they can work on. For Benitez’s men, it’s going to be a long season for them in the Europe as well as the league.
Inter, on the other hand, have a lot of work that needs to be done on the team. For one, figuring out the best formation for this diminished Inter side would be a good start. Mazzarri will definitely look to Erick Thohir to help the club out by strengthening the squad this coming January transfer window. If Inter are to push for that third and final Champions League spot, it’s certain that reinforcements are necessary.
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