Stadio San Paolo witnessed a fine performance from home side Napoli as they thrashed rivals Lazio 5–0 in what was a brilliantly efficient display.
Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri was under all kinds of pressure coming into the game but back-to-back 5–0 wins will likely have eased the mounting pressure on his shoulders.
The Partneopei started with a narrow 4–3–3 shape, but changed formations quite a few times during the game. Their shape was lopsided and their attacks were concentrated more towards the left, where Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik struck a good partnership.
Pepe Reina was in goal, while Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly formed the centre-back pairing flanked by the full-backs, Elseid Hysaj and Faouzi Ghoulam. Jorginho sat the deepest among the midfield three, while Allan drifted towards the right half space and was used as the press initiator.
Captain Hamsik played slightly higher than the other two central midfielders, and constantly moved wide or central from his starting position in the left half space. On the opposite flank, Jose Callejon and Allan alternated their pressing duties, and even striker Gonzalo Higuain dropped short on occasions to create overloads.
Higuain played a brilliant game, and had enough variety in his movements and positioning to cause trouble for his inexperienced marker, Wesley Hoedt. Hoedt was partnered in defence by Mauricio, and Lazio’s two centre-backs were flanked on either side by the experienced duo of Dusan Basta and Stefan Radu.
Lazio’s defensive midfielder Ogenyi Onazi facilitated the splitting of the two centre-backs in build-up phases, and also allowed the two full-backs to make forward runs. Similar to Napoli, the Biancocelesti deployed two midfield runners on Onazi’s sides in the half spaces. But both Marco Parolo and Senad Lulic were completely overrun and weren’t helped by their forwards either.
Stefano Mauri and Alessandro Matri’s combined age is 66, and the two men were largely feeding off scraps and offered little pressure in Napoli’s defensive third, as Matri’s supposed partner in attack, Balde Diao Keita, was resigned to a defensive shift on the right to stop the home side from building dangerous attacks through that zone, which they eventually did.
Napoli: 25.Reina, 2.Hysaj, 33.Albiol, 26.Koulibaly, 31.Ghoulam, 8.Jorginho, 5.Allan, 17.Hamsik, 7.Callejon, 24.Insigne, 9.Higuain (4-3-3).
Lazio: 22.Marchetti, 8.Basta, 33.Mauricio, 2.Hoedt, 26.Radu, 23.Onazi, 16.Parolo, 19.Lulic, 6.Mauri, 14.Keita, 17.Matri (4-3-1-2).
Napoli 5-0 Lazio
Napoli’s Pressing And Counter-Pressing
Napoli executed a perfect pressing set-up as they played intelligently and had distributed and situational coverage during their off-the-ball phases. In defensive phases, the Partenopei pressed in the wide areas when the ball was in the whereabouts of Lazio’s defensive third whilst keeping their central shape in midfield.
Allan acted as the press initiator from his starting position on the right half space, and he was supported well by Callejon and right-back Hysaj, who provided the width on the right side as Callejon stayed deeper. Hysaj had a good game defensively, and could have ended with three assists had there been players meeting his tasty crosses from deep right.
During defensive transitional phases, Napoli counter-pressed their opponents and put immediate pressure on the ball carrier or on the player who received the first or the second pass. This was largely their pressing scheme in the first half, when they recovered the ball in Lazio’s half a whopping 13 times (out of 29).
Higuain’s first goal, too, came when Napoli forced Matri to a mistake in the wide left channel. The ex-Juventus striker, under pressure, played an erratic pass to Higuain’s feet and the Argentine happily accepted the present. Napoli were also helped by Lazio’s slowness in regrouping during possession turnovers.
Lazio were initially intent on squeezing play through the sides, which were the most potent Napoli zones of attack, but this left their players hopelessly out of position whenever they regained possession and then lost it as a result of Napoli’s counter-press, which allowed plenty free space for the Napoli players to attack.
Another aspect of Napoli’s pressing was preventing Lazio from building from the back. As mentioned earlier, Onazi initially dropped into the pocket between his two centre-backs, but Insigne and Higuain, as the furthest Napoli players, covered the spaces and forced Lazio to go long, thus hindering their developments.
Lazio All Over The Place As Napoli Draw Them Out
Another distinct feature of the game was the man-to-man pressing by Lazio which badly saw them out of shape in transition play and offered space aplenty for the Napoli attackers between the lines. Even during possession phases, the Lazio players barely had the support needed to circulate the ball which resulted in lots of cheap possession losses for the away side.
Their closing down on the Napoli men in possession led to vacating the space they were in initially, which allowed for plenty spaces for the Napoli players in the pockets between Lazio’s lines of defence and midfield, and saw Insigne in his free-flowing best — dribbling past defenders, and not afraid to shoot from range. Napoli easily bypassed Lazio’s weak man-to-man press through passing triangles.
Higuain, too, tormented the Lazio back line with his unpredictable movements, forcing Hoedt — his marker — to follow him into advanced areas only to put Lazio in a more distorted shape at the back, allowing the likes of Callejon and Hysaj lots of space in wider areas progressing towards the centre.
Higuain dropped short, played on the shoulders of the centre-backs, and also created overloads out wide — it was a perfect centre-forward performance from the 27-year-old. His two goals were testament to his agility as both stemmed from Lazio mistakes.
Insigne turned in a man of the match display as he hit a game-highest six shots, half of which were on target and one resulted in a goal. He also created the highest number of chances in the game, one of which resulted in the Allan goal. The pint-sized forward was bustling with confidence, and had ten 1v1 duels, winning five of them.
Insigne dovetailed well with his captain Hamsik, and the duo was involved in combinations down the left which resulted in three chances created for Napoli. The Insigne-Hamsik combination exchanged 18 passes in total, and all but one of them were in the Lazio half. Their potent partnership even forced Lazio to shift Keita to a wide right shift from his usual striking duties.
Napoli played a perfect game and were tactically brilliant as they maximised the flaws in their opponents’ patterns. Off the ball, the Partenopei worked hard and each player covered spaces whenever required. On the ball, they were selfless and always sought their team-mates, which wasn’t the case with Lazio, who saw very little of the ball. A stark reminder for Stefano Pioli and his Lazio side, and the moment for Sarri to finally announce himself as the main man in Naples.
Written by Abhijit Bharali
Abhijit Bharali is a freelance football writer who specializes in analytical writing. A first generation Liverpool fan, and an engineering undergrad. You can find some of his other work here: https://thenutcrackfootball.wordpress.com/
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