Napoli met Hellas Verona, hoping to end their scoreless run against Serie A’s surprise package. This tactical analysiswill identify how I Gialloblu’s aggressive defensive approach attempted to shut down Napoli’s dangerous attack. The analysis will also study how, despite their eventual victory, Napoli showed the defensive vulnerability that has defined their early-season inconsistency. It also highlights the continued importance of Lorenzo Insigne to Napoli’s tactics.
Napoli made several changes from their clash with Torino. Giovanni Di Lorenzo switched from right to left-back, with Kévin Maalcuit introduced on the right. Kalidou Koulibaly returned from suspension in the centre of defence. Amin Younes replaced Piotr Zieliński, José Callejón replaced Hirving Lozano and Arkadiusz Milik replaced Dries Mertens Though nominally playing a 4-2-3-1 shape, there were few moments when it actually appeared as such. Napoli tended to adopt a 4-4-2 shape defensively and a 3-4-3 shape in attack.
Hellas Verona meanwhile made one change from their clash with Sampdoria. Mattia Zaccagni replaced Inter loanee Eddie Salcedo in the starting lineup as one of the front three. Ivan Jurić’s charges operated in a 3-4-2-1 system in attack, before adopting a 5-4-1/3-4-3 shape in defence. However, it will become clear that this defensive shape would be heavily influenced by how their opponents lined up on the field.
Napoli’s favoured attacking shape
Napoli tend to attack in a 3-4-3/3-2-5 shape. Di Lorenzo stays deeper, forming a back three. Malcuit pushes up to provide width on Napoli’s right flank whilst the left-winger, Amin Younes here, provides width on the left flank. Malcuit’s height and width allows José Callejón to tuck inside more, whilst Lorenzo Insigne tends to drift into the left half-space. This forms a box shape with the double pivot of Fabián Ruiz and Allan in attack. Arkadiusz Milik provided height upfront. This attacking shape was crucial in that it permitted Hellas Verona to match up with them man for man.
Hellas Verona’s press and marking
Jurić’s strategy to nullify Napoli was to send his team out to man-mark when out of possession. Napoli’s 3-4-3/3-2-5 matched up perfectly with Hellas Verona’s favoured 3-4-2-1/5-2-3 formation. As such, the Verona players were not being dragged out of position significantly when being asked to execute their pressing and marking assignments.
Verona were willing to start their press very high up the field. From goal kicks, they matched Napoli’s outfield numbers, forcing Alex Meret to kick to the ball long. When Napoli’s back three did have the ball, they were aggressively pressed by Verona’s front three, whilst a midfielder would track whichever of Napoli’s double-pivot dropped. This largely stymied Napoli’s approach for much of the match.
Malcuit was mostly the player that Hellas left spare when defending. Meanwhile, one of the three centre backs would always be wary of Napoli’s danger men Lorenzo Insigne, whilst Verona’s double pivot of Miguel Veloso and Sofyan Amrabat man-marked Napoli’s double pivot. Napoli were unable to progress through the centre of the field, which is what their four-man box shape was intended to allow them to do.
One of Napoli’s few threats came in the form of Fabián making runs into the left half-space. Insigne largely drew the attention of Amir Rrahmani due to his own left-sided positioning, whilst Amin was tracked by Marco Davide Faraoni. If both those players dropped, space did appear for Fabián to run off Amrabat.
Unsurprisingly, towards the end of the game, Napoli did start to have more joy playing through Hellas Verona. As I Gialloblu tired, more spaces emerged in midfield. Napoli were able to string longer phases of possession together later in the match as a result as they sought to see the game out. Nonetheless, it is arguable that Hellas Verona actually defended better than their opponents. Napoli were simply more clinical when it came to punishing defensive lapses – that was where their quality revealed itself. The numbers back this up, with Hellas Verona managing an xG of 2.58whilst Napoli’s xG was only 1.76.
Insigne was Napoli’s crucial player in attack. Even though Hellas Verona focussed considerable attention on him, he was still a major influence on the match. He dropped off the front line in behind Verona’s occupied double-pivot, often being able to run away from his marker. This was his side’s key avenue of ball progression. Furthermore, his press resistance, decisiveness, directness and creativity in possession helped to create some opportunities for his teammates, albeit opportunities they did not take.
Hellas Verona’s attacking threat
Hellas Verona did not trouble the score sheet. However, Napoli’s defensive performance was not one that should reassure them that their early-season defensive problems are behind them.
There was frequently significant amounts of space between midfield and defence for opposition players to exploit. When Napoli were in their 4-4-2 defensive shape, Hellas Verona’s own box midfield comprising Veloso, Amrabat, Zaccagni and Matteo Pessina overloaded Napoli’s central duo with some ease.
Furthermore, Napoli looked vulnerable on occasion to the counter-attack and in the half-spaces between their full-backs and centre-backs. Hellas Verona simply lacked the quality and decision making to capitalise on their opportunities.
Ivan Jurić will be disappointed that his side were not rewarded more for their performance in Naples. They defended admirably. However, two lapses on their right side led to two Napoli goals. I Gialloblu meanwhile, were rather more wasteful in front of goal.
Carlo Ancelotti will likely be content with a victory, though his side’s overall performance did leave much to be desired. They looked vulnerable defensively and largely devoid of ideas against Hellas Verona’s aggressive press. They rarely sought out the aerial and physical capabilities of Milik. Having been drawn into a cagey, close-quarters contest, Napoli were ultimately somewhat fortunate to escape with the win.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the October issue for just ₤4.99 here