James Sutherland provides a detailed tactical analysis about the Serie A game which finished Juventus 1-0 Napoli.
Juventus and Napoli both came into this match in incredible form. Napoli had won 8 straight in the Serie A, including two 5-1 victories. Juventus, on the other hand, had won 14 straight, the streak propelling them back into the title race after a dismal start to the season. With these two teams sitting on top of the table, and Napoli ahead of Juve by just two points, this match could be the deciding moment in the Scudetto race.
Although the match was a stalemate until Juve scored with 3 minutes to go, it was a captivating tactical battle, as Sarri and Allegri shut out each other’s teams.
JUVENTUS 1-0 NAPOLI
Juventus (4-4-2): Buffon; Evra, Bonucci, Barzagli, Lichtsteiner; Pogba, Marchiso, Khedira, Cuadrado; Dybala, Morata
Napoli (4-3-3): Reina; Ghoulem, Koulibaly, Albiol, Hysaj; Hamsik, Jorginho, Allan; Insigne, Higuain, Callejon
It is often said among tactics bloggers that the formation a team is written in is not the one the play in. This game is the perfect example of that. Both Juve and Napoli flowed freely between several formations in both offense and defense.
Juventus’ defense was impressive, holding Napoli to almost no chances. Napoli also played a strong defensive game, although Juve was able to exploit their press on occasion.
Allegri proved his tactical brilliance here, neutralizing Napoli’s brilliant attack with his move to a 4-4-2 in defense. Juve have often lined up in a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2, but with Napoli’s focus on the half spaces and center, Allegri chose to cut off their play in those areas with a compact 4-4-2.
Juventus’ midfield four and two strikers did a good job of forcing Napoli to play the ball onto the wings. As you can see above, the two strikers are blocking Napoli’s center backs from playing the ball to Jorginho, Napoli’s deep lying playmaker. The midfield block is also fairly tight, with a focus on shutting down the center.
Once Napoli did find a way into a half space, Juve would shut it down immediately. Here Insigne drops off the wing and into the left half space, as he often did. Once he gets the ball, Barzagli, Khedira and Cuadrado all move to close down the space, forcing a turnover.
Barzagli and Bonucci, and later Rugani, both came into midfield to stop Napoli playing in the half spaces. This was vital to Juve’s defense, as they were able to shut out both Jorginho and Higuain, who play predominantly in the center, and Hamsik, Allan and Insigne, who dominate Napoli’s play in the half spaces.
Juventus also put a good press on. It wasn’t overly aggressive, but it did enough to disturb Napoli’s build up.
Here is the first stage of Napoli’s build up, and Juve’s high press. Pepe Reina has the ball, looking for an option for a short pass. Morata and Dybala both mark the center backs, who have split wide, cutting off that option. Jorginho drops back into the last line, in a classic La Volpe move, to provide a third passing option. But Khedira follows him out of midfield and into the box, forcing Jorginho to pass back to Reina.
Reina then plays the ball long to Hamsik, who Marchiso stays tight to, forcing a quick pass on.
Barzagli comes out of defense, following Higuain, and wins the ball back for Juve.
Cuadrado also played a vital role. As the game progressed, Napoli looked more and more to the right wing of Juve’s defense, trying to get the ball to Insigne over top. Allegri instructed Cuadrado to drop out of the midfield four and into the backline, when needed, to check these runs.
The combination of the intelligent press with a tight but still active defensive block stopped Napoli’s offense from creating chances. It is interesting to contrast this game with Napoli’s 5-1 win over Empoli several weeks ago, where Napoli picked apart Empoli’s press with intelligent passing combinations and use of a free man, then used the half spaces to break Empoli apart in the final third. Juve avoided making the same mistakes that Empoli made, and turned in a great defensive performance.
Both Juve on offense and Napoli on defense showed a great deal of fluidity in their formations.
Juventus lined up nominally in a 4-4-2 and, as we have seen above, played defense out of that, but on offense they had several different structures.
Here you can see Juve shift to a 4-3-3 from the outset. Cuadrado pushes out of midfield onto the right wing, and the midfield three which has done so well this season forms. Marchiso is in the center, playing a role similar to Pirlo’s in previous seasons, while Khedira and Pogba each occupy their respective half spaces. Khedira and Pogba play mainly in those half spaces, although Pogba would drift onto the wing looking for long balls over top, and Khedira would sometimes swap with Marchiso to keep the left half space free.
Just seconds after the first photo, Juve has shifted into a 4-4-2, with a diamond midfield. Dybala drops off the front line and into the 10 spot, while Cuadrado and Morata take up the two forward positions. Cuadrado, however, stayed very wide, looking for long balls past Ghoulem, Napoli’s full back on that side.
This diamond is well formed, allowing the center backs and Marchiso to progress the ball through midfield easily with numerous passing options.
Here Juventus move into a 3-5-2. Marchiso moves into the backline to pick up the ball, the two center backs spread wide, and the fullbacks push up the field.
This isn’t really a formation that we saw much, nor was really a formation as much as a classic move out of the Juego du Posicion system.
Napoli was just as complex on defense, using several formations, depending on where the ball was.
When pressing Juve in their half, Napoli used a 4-4-2. It wasn’t rigid, with both wingers free to step out and press a little higher, in support of the two strikers. Usually it was Insigne who dropped into the midfield four, but Callejon would drop into the other side when Insigne stepped up.
Even though Juve have managed to work it into Khedira in the center of the field, Napoli do a good job of shutting down his passing options, forcing the ball backwards.
Once Juve moved the ball into the middle third, Napoli would push both wingers into midfield, forming a 4-5-1. This was both vertically and horizontally compact, making Juve’s build up play much harder, and reducing it to long balls to Cuadrado and Morata.
Napoli also easily pressed out of this formation, as they forced Juve backwards by having Jorginho press out, and the four midfielders reforming behind him.
Deep in their own half, usually in the final third, Napoli would push one of its wingers all the way back into the defensive line, forming a 5-4-1. Callejon did this often, helping to negate Pogba’s influence on the left.
This was a battle between two top managers, and great fun to watch. It is a great example of how a match can be thrilling even if only one goal is scored.
xG map for Juve-Napoli. Shutting down Napoli’s attack is a massive accomplishment, but Juve didn’t create much. pic.twitter.com/Kq7uUOn4pD
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) February 14, 2016
Both teams shut the other down, with some tactical brilliance on show. Juve come away the winners after Zaza’s brilliant strike. Napoli will be disappointed with the result, but should come away proud that they held their own against one of the best sides in Europe. We have a great Scudetto race on our hands.
Written by James Sutherland
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