Sunday’s afternoon of Serie A fixtures saw Crotone losing their eighth game this season, against Napoli led by Gennaro Gattuso.

Crotone have conceded the opening goal seven times this season already, which brought consequently for also seven losses. On the other hand, Napoli won six out of their six games where they scored first.

The statistic stayed valid today as well, even though Crotone battled during the first half, putting energy and commitment into the game. Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep a clean sheet as Insigne found the top corner from outside the penalty area.

The second half instead was heavily influenced by the red card after a severe VAR review. The game turned one-way only with Napoli widening their score and reaching third place in Serie A, behind Milan and Inter at the moment.

In this tactical analysis, we will examine the defensive organisation of Napoli, and we will understand the tactics implemented by Gattuso. In this analysis, we will also highlight how Crotone started the game and adjusted to it during its different phases. 


Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics

Stroppa started with a 3-5-2 in possession, with Cordaz defending the goal. The defensive line was formed by Cuomo, Marrone, Luperto. Pedro Pereira was the right midfielder while Reca was on the opposite side. In the midfield, Molina, Petriccione, Benali all played, with Junior Messias and Simy as strikers.

Gattuso started with a 4-2-3-1 on paper. Ospina was between sticks, with Mário Rui as left-back and Di Lorenzo on the right. Koulibaly and Manolas were the centre-backs. Demme and Bakayoko were the defensive midfielders. Insigne and Lozano were offensively wide, with Zieliński as attacking midfielder supporting the forward Petagna.

Napoli building up and their defensive strategy

The first half of the game showed intensity and pressing from both teams, bringing the game to be quite entertaining under the rain.

Gattuso, who changed five players from the last Europa League game. was able to motivate his team. They constantly pressed and showed determination, taking some risks as well while having the ball, avoiding at any cost to throw it away.

What was interesting to see was how the goal kick was taken by one of the centre-backs, passing the ball for Ospina, leaving the goalkeeper playing the ball with his feet showing courage and resourcefulness. 

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Koulibaly played the ball for Ospina, taking responsibility for playing the ball with his feet.

In the above footage, we see how Napoli prepared in the restarting phase, and how Gattuso asked them to build from the back. In this specific scenario, Koulibaly took the goal kick making Ospina available to play the ball.

While Manolas and Koulibaly stayed inside the penalty box, Demme and Bakayoko were right outside the box ready to receive. It is not easy to see, however on their same line we had Mário Rui and Di Lorenzo wide open.

In this scenario, even with the high pressing brought by Crotone, Bakayoko had time and space to turn and serve Petagna with a long pass, quickly avoiding and making inefficient the first block brought by the rossoblù.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Bakayoko’s long pass for Petagna.

Petagna after he received the pass, got immediate support by Insigne, with Lozano and Zieliński playing more offensively. The position covered by Zieliński, which he has been asked by Gattuso to cover, is a different role from what he usually played in Naples during these years.

The duel between Petagna and Marrone was a constant that lasted for the entire game.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Marrone pressing Petagna till the half-line

The high and organized pressing of Crotone, however, did not make life easy for Napoli, and Ospina often found the best option in playing a long pass for Petagna directly, avoiding the first block and playing through the forward skipping Demme or Bakayoko’s first touch.

Petagna, who has the perfect characteristics for receiving this type of passes, was able to help his team coming up, gaining fouls, or keeping the ball possession.

As previously mentioned, Zieliński is adapting to a new role that requires different movements. The Polish international struggled for the most part of the match in finding the right position and space on the pitch, but when he did, he gave his contribution as per the opening goal.

After a sequence of passes from left to right, Di Lorenzo received the ball and quickly passed on to Zieliński, avoiding Benali’s press.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Di Lorenzo’s pass for Zieliński. Here born the opening goal.

For the first time during the first half, Zieliński had the opportunity to play 1vs1 in the core of the pitch. He showed great dribbling skills avoiding his opponent, and with tunnel vision, he served Insigne.

Insigne, after receiving, moved the ball quickly on his favorite foot and he found the back of the net with his typical bending shot on the far post.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Zieliński’s dribbling on Cuomo gives the opportunity to serve Insigne making him in a condition of play 1vs1

Napoli defending tactics instead depended heavily on how fast Crotone was able to move the ball and how quick the offensive players were able to get back in position.

Often Insigne and Lozano dropped back on the midfield line, respectively on the left and right side, with Zieliński near Petagna, shaping the 4-2-3-1 into a more classic 4-4-2.

The footage below, however showed a specific scenario where Junior Messias dropped deep and between lanes, received a pass from the defence.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Junior Messias drops deep giving passing options to his teammates.

Taking advantage of the space and movement that he made, he played a one-two combination.

He ran forward inside the channel between Manolas and Di Lorenzo, avoiding Manolas with a great one-touch, and launched himself into a run.

He beat Napoli’s defenders on the run and gained a corner kick as a reward for his effort.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Junior Messias beats Manolas and gains a corner kick.

Crotone’s defensive approach and early change

The initial 3-5-2 organized by mister Stroppa quickly became a 5-3-2 while not in possession of the ball.

Reca and Pedro Pereira were called to help the defence, forming so a line of five. With Simy and Junior Messias as forward, the three midfielders stayed together, forming the middle unit.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Crotone’s 5-3-2 shape

While having the ball, Crotone left three men behind, and the midfield shape changed according to the attacking side.

In the below scenario Reca received a pass from the defence, having the only Simy running deep providing some support. Benali was too far away and too slow in shortening the distance, while Messias obviously was in the centre of the attack.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Reca finds few passing options as everyone is marked or far away.

Benali was called off the pitch after only 36′ and replaced by Vulić. Despite his good effort, Benali did not make the impact expected by Stroppa.

The entrance of the Serbian player gave more speed to the rossoblù, adjusting their offensive shape to a 3-4-3, and widening the ratio of Crotone. It is not a coincidence that the Serbian had a shot on target right after his entrance on the pitch. It was the only shot on target registered by Crotone and consequentially the only save made by Ospina during the entire game.

While building from behind instead, Petriccione dropped on the defensive line being the playmaker, with the team taking a 4-3-3 shape.

Unfortunately, the change made by Stroppa lasted only for very little as once they were back for the second half, the red card made a whole difference.

The heatmaps below help to understand Benali and Vulić’s presences on the pitch, with the Serbian asked to stay mostly wide on the left.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Benali’s heatmap on the left and Vulić’s heatmap on the right

How the red card influenced the game

If a fifteen points difference between Crotone and Napoli, with two completely different goals for this season, was not enough to mark the gap between them, the red card simply made this gap bigger forcing the rossoblù to play the whole second part of the game 10 vs 11.

The red card showed at Petriccione from the referee Marinelli with the help of the VAR, for how correct and severe it was, knocked-out Stroppa’s tactics as well the inertia of the game.

Stroppa adjusted his defensive tactic to a 5-3-1, asking extra-effort and dedication to Junior Messias who dropped back, leaving Simy as the only striker.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Crotone’s 5-3-1

Down a man, Napoli found much more space in attack, with Zieliński and Lozano benefiting more than others.

At the same time, the movements of Crotone’s defence had not adjusted to the numerical difference on the pitch, gifting Napoli more goal opportunities.

The below footage shows exactly what was just mentioned. Zieliński dropped deep and received a pass from Demme. He finally found some more space where to play the ball.

Marrone, who had instructions to press Napoli’s players in order to force them back to the net, made the run.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Demme’s pass for Zieliński and Morrone drew out from the run of the Polish national.

As he followed the man, he left a hole in his defence. Marrone was drawn out too easy, leaving his defence unprepared and weak.

Once Zieliński left the ball for Insigne, he tried to block the cross; however, Insigne’s delivery was top notch on the far post where Lozano was left completely alone.

Luperto found himself in a 1vs2 situation and was not able to avoid the second goal from Napoli.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics
Insigne’s cross for Lozano on the far post for the second goal

Napoli in transition

With Crotone waiting for the final whistle, Napoli lowered the rhythm of the game without giving away any opportunities. Even with lowered intensity, the offensive transitions were positive, taking advantage of the numerical superiority.

The third goal came exactly from a ball recovered by Bakayoko with a great challenge in his own third. He played a long and straight pass for Lozano’s run, who had the immediate support of Demme and Mertens who replaced Zieliński a few minutes earlier.

The footage below shows Mertens and Marrone in the yellow circle. The body orientation of the centre-back is not accurate, and again he will not be able to anticipate or limit the damage.

Mertens, with his back to goal, dropped the ball for Demme who found the far post with a diagonal shot leaving Cordaz blameless.

Serie A 2020/21: Crotone vs Napoli – tactical analysis tactics


Gattuso and the Partenopei can be satisfied with the overall performance. After the 4-0 against Roma, they were able to win away with the same score against Crotone who is desperately screaming for points. After the challenging first half, the red card definitely helped Gattuso’s strategy and also gave the opportunity to give some rest to key players for the next game.

Stroppa, on the other hand, needs to find a solution to a team that have only picked up two points in Serie A, and moreover needs points before the gap gets bigger and unrecoverable. With only two points from thirty available at the moment, it makes the rossoblù a risk of relegation from the league for the first time.