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Tactical Analysis

Napoli 3-1 AC Milan: Tactical Analysis | Benitez’s dual pressing on centre backs pays off

An interesting tactical battle at the Stadio San Poalo saw Rafa Benitez’s Napoli go head to head against newly appointed Clarene Seedorf’s AC Milan. The Partenopei came into this encounter on the back of two successive losses against Roma and Atalanta giving Benitez quite a few frown lines on his forehead. Milan however have hit a minor purple patch since club legend Seedorf took over and have amassed seven points from an available nine, meaning they would travel away from home quite confident of sealing the points.

Napoli 3-1 AC Milan


Napoli: Reina; Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Ghoulam; Inler, Jorginho; Mertens, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain

Milan: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Mexes, Rami, Emanuelson; De Jong, Essien; Abate, Taarabt, Robinho; Balotelli


Rafa Benitez lined his Napoli side in the much fancied 4-2-3-1 setup giving Faouzi Ghoulam, the left full-back, captured from St Etienne a start in front of the home faithful. Another new signing Jorginho assisted by Gokhan Inler played in the heart of the midfield. Jose Callejon was benched as the attacking triumvirate of Mertens, Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne started with Gonzalo Higuain leading the front line.  For Milan though, it was Adel Taraabt who got his first start playing on the left and interestingly Ignazio Abate, the right full-back was deployed in a more advanced winger role. Nigel De Jong partnered Essien in the central defensive midfield role as Mario Balotelli led the line with Brazilian Robinho playing just behind. Persisting stomach problems for Kaka meant he could only get a feel of the encounter from the bench, but was brought on in the second half.

Initial Napoli Pressure


The home team started the better of the two sides with Benitez’s side willing to press in Milan’s defensive third. With Inler and particularly Jorginho advised to play the anchor man role, it was the front four especially Insigne and Mertens who attacked Milan’s central defenders of Mexes and Adil Rami to create space for Marek Hamisk, who played in the pockets of space (depicted in the above snap) with Higuain on his own up front.

Taraabt’s goal and Napoli’s poor defending

It is so unlike Benitez’s sides that Napoli conceded six goals in heir last two games. Inler who was pushing up far too high left vacant space for Jorginho to cover in the middle of the park and this was exactly how Milan got their opening goal thanks to Adel Taraabt’s magnificent run and finish past Pepe Reina. Federico Fernandez’s wayward pass up the pitch was easily intercepted by debutant Taraabt and the Moroccan displayed quick feet to get past Inler, leaving Jorginho clueless too.


However, it was horrendous defending by both Albiol and Fernandez to allow Taraabt too much time, waiting an eternity to allow the Moroccan to shoot who coolly slotted it past the hapless diving Reina. Taraabt’s directness in running at the defence suits the Italian game but you will always find coaches advising defenders to get tight on the opposition, but as we see from the above snap, there is no one who is going to challenge Taraabt’s possession of the ball. Inler and Jorginho are caught behind the ball, Ghoulam is taken away by Balotelli’s run wide while Maggio is nowhere in the snap as he is caught upfield.

Napoli’s equaliser albiet Inler’s wonder strike

The home side however, were soon back on level terms thanks to their sustained pressure on the Milan midfield, which for most of the first half was non existent. Inler picked up a loose ball following a mis-clearance from Milan and a fierce strike from his left foot ended at the back of an awestruck Abbiati’s net.

inler goal

Inler’s goal. Via

Napoli were the better team in the first half and perhaps should have taken the lead when a delightful ball from Lorenzo Insigne was played between the two central defenders, Mexes and Rami but the lightning quick Belgian International Dries Mertens failed to loop past the ball over the on rushing Abbiati.


The Milan goal keeper perhaps should have been sent off as the home team were awarded a free kick from which Mertens brought out a top draw save from the Milan goalkeeper. As the home team failed to take advantage from the plethora of chances they created and both sides went into the tunnel at half time all square.

Higuain scores as Napoli lead by 2-1


The home side took the lead after Gokhan Inler’s delightful chip was well finished by Higuain, the Argentine International lost his marker Phillipe Mexes, who unknowingly waited for the linesman’s flag, but Higuain was well and truly onside to slot home.


The goal came as a result of Milan sitting too back and inviting the Napoli pressure which the latter gracefully took with both hands. While Rami was caught ball watching, Higuain lost his marker in Mexes and delightfully slotted home as Napoli took the lead. The Argentine International should have extended the home side’s lead but failed to make any connection to yet another through ball splitting the two centre backs.

Higuain scores his second as Napoli wrap up by 3-1


Yet again the Milan defence allowed far too much space as Hamsik played in a delightful through pass to Callejon whose cut back found Higuain just to tap it past the hapless Abbiati.

Where does this leave them?

Clarence Seedorf must go back to the drawing board given his side’s disastrous defensive performance and plug the gaps at the back, failing which they will be in further trouble in the coming weeks. All in all it was a great performance from a Napoli side who were winless in their last two games but bounced back in emphatic fashion as once again Benitez’s dual pressing tactics on centre backs paid rich dividends. Napoli remain in 3rd spot in the league while the away side’s mini recovery was dealt a blow.

Did you notice a tactical aspect of the game we missed? Do let us know by leaving a comment below.

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