Despite winning the Coppa Italia final against Juventus last month, the return to football has not been kind for Napoli, so far they have only managed to accumulate four wins out of seven games which has seen them drop down a position in the table. This type of form from Gennaro Gattuso’s men has come as quite a surprise, considering that before the forced break they looked like a convincing side with players who were willing to work above and beyond for the club on the pitch.
This was reflected through their wins against Roma and Juventus earlier on in the Serie A season. However, now the squad seems a bit uninspired and uninterested about the proceedings in the league, which is something Gatusso will look to fix sooner rather than later, especially as his side still have tough fixtures against the likes of Lazio and Inter.
Udinese on the other hand, haven’t had the best of seasons, as they have been inconsistent throughout which is why they are currently 16th place in the league. Having said that, they are six points above the relegation places, which is something that they will defiantly settle for, considering the fact that some of their performances this season have not warranted Serie A survival. Their 7-1 loss against Atalanta is a fixture that particularly stands out. Even so, having been dragged through this season by manager Luca Gotti, Udinese will look forward towards the end of the season, where they can reflect and start from scratch, in the hope for better fortune next season in Serie A.
Napoli lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation with Dries Mertens up front, partnered with both Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejón on the wings. The midfield trio was then made up of Piotr Zieliński, Stanislav Lobotka, and Fabián Ruiz. Then in defence, as expected, the full-backs were Mário Rui and Elseid Hysaj, while the two centre-backs were made up by Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas.
Udinese set up in their preferred 3-5-2 formation with both Ilija Nestorovski and Kevin Lasagna leading the line, while Marvin Zeegelaar and Jens Larsen formed the wing-backs. The central roles were made up with Seko Fofana, Walace, and Rodrigo De Paul. Finally, in defence, Bram Nuytinck, Sebastian De Maio, and Rodrigo Becão formed the back three.
Napoli’s attacking play
During this fixture, Napoli were very clever to utilise the width of their full-backs to bypass the two pressing forwards from Udinese. By playing the ball wide they would be able to get them into an advantageous position in between Udinese’s two lines of pressure, where they then use passing moves and combinations to penetrate the second defensive line. In the image below we can see just how much space the full-backs had out wide to progress play into the opponents half.
Once the ball is with the full-back we can see the type of passing combination’s that were created by Napoli. In this example, Zieliński drops deep from his position which creates a triangular shape with the help of Koulibaly and Rui, this shape opens up passing angles and promotes more efficient off-ball movement which makes Napoli significantly more potent in their attack.
From this position, the Udinese wing-back (Larsen) and right-sided central midfielder (De Paul) press the players from Napoli as they believe that they can catch them out in a pressing trap. However, by doing this it opens up space for Insigne behind this defensive to receive the ball, where he can then link up with the other two attackers in which a 3 v 3 can then be created against Udinese’s back-line. Despite this, in the end, the chance fails to materialise.
Nevertheless, the example below does show us a perfect representation of this passing move being executed correctly. As we can see the triangular shape is in place yet again, which invites Udinese to press, like the last example in this analysis is where the space is created from.
Now we can see that once the ball is with Callejón space has now opened up for Hysaj on the right-hand side. From this, the Spanish winger and Ruiz are able to combine in which the press from Udinese is beaten and simultaneously the ball is played into Hysaj, who can now cross the ball into the box from an excellent position.
This example helps epitomise the way Napoli looked to attack in this game, by creating overloads in wide areas and manufacturing their own space through their own movements and passing sequences. The next scenario will help to exemplify this point even further.
Here we can see yet again the passing configuration in place with the press being applied.
As soon as the ball reaches Mertens, the half-space has been opened up, which gives Zieliński the opportunity to drive with the ball in between the space and progress the attack further. Then, once through, he is in a dangerous position where he can either have a shot on goal or pass the ball to one of his teammates.
Udinese’s defensive structure
As already highlighted in this tactical analysis, Napoli predominantly played the ball wide to bypass Udinese’s pressing structure. This was because Udinese deployed two defensive blocks that were relatively compact, which made it harder for Napoli to play in between the lines and create passing opportunities within the central areas. Specifically, Napoli’s central midfielders were completely taken out of the game due to the nature of Udinese’s system, which made key players such as Lobotka and Ruiz redundant during the build-up phase.
We can see another example of this defensive structure below, with Lobotka and Ruiz again being isolated in the midfield. With this structure, Udinese effectively have a 5 v 2 advantage in the centre of the pitch, giving them numerical superiority in this region, which makes Napoli’s task of playing out from the back a lot more challenging. Furthermore, because they have wing-backs within their 3-5-2 formation, they are also able to provide effective coverage in the wide areas, while still having the flexibility to shift towards a 5-3-2 formation, if they wish to be more defensive with two solid compact blocks.
Even so, with the 3-5-2 formation, it forced Napoli to recycle the ball within their defence a number of times. For instance, as we can see below as soon as Lobotka receives the ball he is immediately pressed by the Udinese players which forces him to make the safe choice and play the ball back to his defender. Udinese’s structure here is so effective due to the small distance between the two blocks, which makes the central channel much more compact. Thus, when Lobotka received the ball in this situation he was already surrounded and unable to work the ball around the press, which left him with only one option, which was to play the ball back.
Then even when Napoli looked to exploit the wide areas and create their overloads as already highlighted in this analysis, the paradigms of the 3-5-2 formation would sometimes prevent this from happening. As we can see below the Udinese wing-back (Larsen) is able to block the passing lane towards the Napoli wingers, which prevents the passing combination from being executed and consequently forces Napoli to recycle play, where they have to start again.
Udinese’s reliance on transitions
Throughout this game, Napoli did well to limit Udinese’s creativity due to their long spells in possession which significantly hindered the visitors’ time on the ball. Because of this, they often looked towards transitional moments to create their chances, as they knew that the majority of Napoli players would be caught off guard and out of position, which would give them the best chance of scoring.
In order to achieve this, they adopted a sporadic press in which they would only press the Napoli players if they could achieve numerical superiority. In doing this they had a far greater chance of dispossessing the opposition and creating chances on the transition.
As we can see Udinese have achieved a 5 v 3 advantage, with players covering the passing options as well as the ball carrier. This phase of play limited Napoli considerably and eventually forced them to lose the ball, thanks to an important tackle by Walace.
From this, they were able to get the ball in a good position just inside the box, where they had the opportunity to cross the ball into a dangerous area. However, in the end, the cross was gathered by David Ospina and the attack was over. Nonetheless, this scenario does highlight how Udinese attempted to use aggressive pressing tactics in order to create chances and pressurise Napoli.
That being said, we can see another example below of Udinese’s pressing. Here the numerical superiority is still evident with a 5 v 3 advantage in Udinese’s favour which allows them to win the ball with Fofana.
Then after possession is re-gained Udinese are able to attack a structurally weak Napoli defence. And as we can see below during Udinese’s attack there is plenty of space on the right-hand side of the pitch for Larsen to receive the ball as well as space in the central zone where Walace is making a late run in, illustrating just how exposed Napoli’s defence is.
Overall, Udinese’s use of a sporadic press in this fixture worked well, as it helped to destabilise Napoli’s attacks and allowed them to have a real go and test Napoli’s defence on transitions. Also, considering the fact that Udinese maintained a central overload when defending, their pressing tactics worked very well in conjunction with this, as the majority of players were already in an ideal position to initiate the press. As a result, Udinese were able to use this functionality to their advantage as they could press Napoli in intervals while still remaining defensively adept.
Napoli’s use of zone 14
As this game progressed, Napoli looked to use the whole width of the pitch and the advanced positioning of the full-backs to help elongate Udinese’s tight defensive structure. In the image below we can see that both full-backs (Hysaj and Rui) have pushed up higher to help produce overloads in the wide areas, which then forces Udinese to commit numbers to their position once a pass is made out wide. Which consequently makes their central block less compact and allows for Napoli to play in between the half-spaces.
Now as we can see, when the ball is played wide Udinese are forced to shuffle players towards the ball carrier (Insigne), who has the possibility to get in behind the defence thanks to the support from the full-back coming in behind. However, because the players from Udinese have now moved towards this position, the space just outside the box (zone 14) become open for the late run of Zieliński, who despite having two opposition players behind him, he is still in an advantageous position to get a first time shot off.
We can illuminate Napoli’s desire to create space centrally from wide areas again in the image below. Here yet again Insigne can play the ball into space towards the now subbed on Arkadiusz Milik, who is in enough room to perform a snapshot thanks to the strategical positioning of his teammates. Thus it is apparent that this method adopted by Napoli helped to mitigate Udinese’s defensive structure and enabled them to become more disrupted down the wings, where they could create gaps within Udinese’s backline and have convincing shots on target.
In this tactical analysis, I have provided an analysis of how the match-up between Inter and Torino played out and highlighted how both teams set up against each other. To conclude, after a few tactical switches by Gatusso, Napoli were able to dominate this game with 68.1% possession, while Udinese struggled to really adapt their approach after they scored their first goal. Nevertheless, Udinese will be looking to build from this next gameweek as they host Juventus, while Napoli will feel confident in getting a win against Parma at their next outing.