Raghunandhanan Narasimhan writes a detailed article about the Serie A match that ended Napoli 1-1 Juventus.
Gonzalo Higuain made his return to the San Paolo after making his controversial move to Turin from Naples. The match featured two of the best teams in the Serie A as the match promised to be a treat with two very tactically astute coaches on show. Juventus have almost assimilated an unassailable lead that they are unlikely to let slip while Napoli are slogging it against Roma to see who comes out as the next best side in Italy after the Old Lady in the Serie A.
Napoli (4-3-3): Rafael; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Strinic; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne.
Juventus (4-2-3-1): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Asamoah; Khedira, Marchisio; Lemina, Pjanic, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Juventus focus on a compact shape and defend resolutely
Allegri fielded his side in a hybrid formation that varied in offensive and defensive phases. This was down to the involvement of Mandzukic and Lemina in the set up as the two wide men were focused on retaining their shape. They varied in between a 4-4-1-1 and a 4-4-2 with Pjanic tasked with minimal defensive responsibilities. The fact that Allegri fielded a back four would also be with respect to the dynamic front three that Napoli possess who can cause damage in the final third in 1v1 situations. With Lichtsteiner and Asamoah in the back line, Allegri fielded two full backs who could curtail their attacking intent and deal with their defensive duties in a disciplined fashion.
The focus was to retain compactness especially in the central areas marshalled by Khedira and Marchisio as Juventus responded to the movements from the Napoli players in a man oriented manner. The occupancy of space in between the lines by Hamsik and Insigne is an integral part of the way Napoli play and this was dealt with this by this approach. There was a strong focus to apply pressure within the half and Juventus stayed well connected within their half so that they could have access to any ball carrier if found in space. The involvement of Mandzukic and Lemina was instrumental in Juve’s defensive approach.
To counter Napoli’s threat down the wings, especially the left, Lemina stayed in line with the midfield bank so that he could deal with any pass coming into Hamsik in the left half space while also blocking the passing lane to Insigne in behind. Mandzukic on the other hand was focused on marking Callejon in these situations in order to prevent a quick switch that could leave Callejon in a 1v1 situtation against Asamoah.
Napoli’s adaptations in attack to Juventus’ approach
With Juventus focusing heavily on retaining their structure Napoli had a huge task in their hands after Khedira had put Juventus in front in the 6th minute scoring a very good goal in a sudden burst forward. This however did not stop them from playing down the left side as they looked to find gaps so as to exploit the compact structure. The ball oriented shifts from the midfield was used in this case to break the lines. The positioning of Insigne and Hamsik, including Callejon at times was in such a way that they could exploit any sort of small gap in between the two adjacent midfielders so that they could receive a pass in between the lines.
With Juventus increasingly defensive, Napoli resorted to their usual pressing traps in order to draw Juventus out and break the lines. The way Juventus countered it was natural to the way they set out on the night as they offered almost zero pressure on the ball inside Napoli’s half. This ensured that Juventus remained vertically compact so as to ensure that Napoli could not find gaps in between the lines. With Ivan Strinic involved, the left sided dynamic from the Napoli trio tried to draw out the midfield bank to create gaps.
The equaliser from Napoli was a perfect example of drawing out the opponent and exploiting the gap. With good play from Jorginho, Hamsik and Mertens, Napoli drew out the Juventus players and scored a good team goal. Bonucci gets drawn to Hamsik and quick interplay and a nice reverse from Mertens puts Hamsik through on goal.
Over focus on structure reduces Juventus’ offensive threat
Napoli pressed in their usual energetic pressing manner and very high up the pitch. This high press led to a few chances for Napoli with Dries Mertens hitting the post from a narrow angle after Asamoah had been forced into a back pass. With almost a flat back four and limited offensive assistance from Asamoah and Lichtsteiner, Juventus could not build up play easily from the back. Bonucci is the main creator from the back for Juventus and Dries Mertens was specifically tasked with limiting Bonucci’s time on the ball. Whenever the Italian centre back picked up the ball he was typically closed down in a high intense manner and could not find time to pick out a telling pass. In other instances the passing lanes to Bonucci were blocked or Insigne slotted in from the wing to cover Bonucci so that the ball was not played to him.
Another major factor as to why Juventus struggled to put together a good sequence of passes was the limited influence of Miralem Pjanic in the build-up play. This was mainly down to his role in the defensive phase of the play as he was mainly contributing to the first line of pressure or in behind Higuain. With heavy focus on central compaction, Juventus found themselves crowded out in the midfield whenever they won the ball back or tried to play through Napoli’s pressure. Marchisio and Khedira in particular, lack the press resistance and ball retention capabilities in such situations and this led to Napoli being able to win the ball back easily.
Notice here that Allan has won the ball back after a poor pass from Chiellini. Prior to that there is high pressure from all the Napoli players as they have the passing options covered so that a turnover can be forced.
To combat this, Juventus resorted to balls down the flanks with Asamoah and Lichtsteiner pushing a bit forward during goal kicks. Another ploy was to involve Mandzukic in aerial duels with long balls from the back so that he could win the ball higher up the field. This ensured that Juventus were able to bypass the press from Napoli and could also hold their shape if they lost the ball in Napoli’s half. This had limited influence on the way things panned out for Juventus as they missed Bonucci’s involvement due to the close attention on him and the collective structural access from the Napoli midfield.
The expected goals models suggested that Napoli more than had their fair chances to win the game and were unlucky to go behind to Khedira’s goal very early in the first half. Though Napoli had 17 shots to Juventus’ 4, Juventus had the organisational prowess and the personnel to marshal Napoli well. Though they conceded a brilliant team goal from Napoli with Hamsik scoring, Juventus would be pleased to come away with a point from the San Paolo. Napoli would have been better off creating few more clear cut chances than they did and would be ruing on missing out a chance to pull off a win over the reigning champions.
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