In the seventh round of the Serie A, Bologna hosted Napoli with both of them aspiring to win and get the three points before the international break.
As expected, Napoli were able to heal their wounds of the loss of the previous game against Sassuolo achieve a victory that made them third in the table behind Milan and Sassuolo, while Bologna remained in the 14th place after their fifth loss this season.
This tactical analysis breaks down the tactics of the match between Bologna and Napoli. With the use of match footage and data, this analysis unpacks what happened in Napoli’s 1-0 win over Bologna.
Bologna started the match with their 4-1-4-1 formation: Łukasz Skorupski was the goalkeeper while the four-line defence consisted of Mitchell Dijks, Lorenzo De Silvestri, Danilo, and the 22-year-old Japanese Takehiro Tomiyasu. The midfielders were Jerdy Schouten, Nicolás Domínguez, Riccardo Orsolini, Roberto Soriano, and Musa Barrow. The attack was led by Rodrigo Palacio.
On the other side, Gattuso started the match with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation where David Ospina was the goalkeeper and the four defenders were Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Konstantinos Manolas, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Elseid Hysaj. Fabián Ruiz and Tiemoué Bakayoko (who joined from Chelsea on loan) formed the midfield duo with Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, and Hirving Lozano ahead of them supporting the 21-year-old Nigerian player Victor Osimhen as the striker.
Napoli’s pressing and their defensive style
Napoli press was not organised enough, especially when it comes to their own half. If we look at the PPDA report for this match, we will find that. As the average number of passes allowed to their opponent’s players in their regions without pressing reached 27.3 in the first half before that rate improved in the second half, as shown below.
But unlike what was happening in their areas, the high pressure of Napoli’s players was organised and effective, as they were pressing in advanced areas as one unit, which is always required in order to be able to apply the high pressure well.
The pressing from the advanced areas always requires high speed to move and close spaces until the opponent’s defenders are forced to get rid of the ball or pass inaccurately, so they can recover the ball in more dangerous areas.
Here we can see it clearly, as the Napoli players waited for the ball to be sent back to the goalkeeper. They then pressed and closed the spaces forcing the goalkeeper in making a mistake leading to the Napoli players recovering the ball and scoring their goal from this method.
When the Napoli players were in a defensive state, they lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. This method enabled them to close the spaces against the Bologna players and prevent them from passing in dangerous areas. It was successful as Bologna’s players did not create any dangerous opportunity in the first half.
Below we can notice this, as the Napoli players line up well in a 4-4-2 formation until there is no opportunity to pass in areas dangerous and then they were able to recover the ball before it posed any danger to their goal.
Napoli’s attacking phase
Napoli’s players relied on long passes from the back to the sides of the field in attack, focusing their actions on the right.
As result of Napoli using the right side to exploit the areas behind the advancing Bologna full-back, we can see in the xG report by the flanks that the percentage of expected goals on the right is 81% of the total goals expected throughout the match.
Here, for example, Napoli recovered the ball in their half, Insigne passes the ball to Lozano on the right side in the space behind the advancing Bologna full-back.
Here is also a clear example of this approach. Fabián Ruiz received the ball on the left side, while Lozano moved to the right in a similar manner.
Napoli’s players could have added more goals from this area but were not effective enough in the final third. This one, although the opportunity to pass on the other side of the field is the best, Fabián Ruiz decided to keep the ball and lost it.
One of the most important and biggest problems for Bologna’s defensive players, which the team suffered from throughout the match, was the lack of monitoring inside the box.
All of Bologna’s defensive players performed poorly. This was evident to everyone as they did not stick to the man inside the penalty area resulting in the striker being free to move inside the box without pressure.
Here for Napoli’s goal, Osimhen is in the box, alone and without pressure, while all of the Bologna’s players are focused on the ball carrier.
Here, is another example of this issue, where the Bologna players lined up strangely without pressure on the Napoli players, as Osimhen prepares to enter the box and no one bothered to pressure him or close the space in front of him.
Bologna’s attacking phase
Bologna did not have any attacking appearance throughout the first half, as Napoli were able to close all the spaces and did not leave the freedom to pass deeply into the box.
Below is the xG match report, we can see that the Bologna players did not make almost any chance to score throughout the first half.
But in the second half, with the advance of the Napoli players, gaps appeared between their lines that Bologna were able to use and move to advanced areas of the field.
Here, Musa Barrow receives the ball between the defence and midfield lines and is able to create an opportunity to score, but Palacio did not finish it well.
Bologna players also relied on collecting the play on one side of the field and then switching the play to the other side towards the advancing wing away from the pressure structures.
Below we can see that the Napoli players accumulate play to the left while Orsolini moves to the right to actually receive the pass, but he did not optimise its use to score a goal.
Napoli managed to get three very important points while Bologna suffered their fifth loss this season.
Napoli are now on the right path in terms of results, but in terms of performance, Gattuso needs to review some things, such as diversifying the attack and not relying solely on the spaces behind the backs and the weakness of monitoring inside the box.
On the other hand, Bologna need to reconsider their approach if they want to stay in Serie A next season.