First of all, before anything, I would like to send my condolences to the family and friends of DavideAstori as well as ACF Fiorentina after the sudden passing of their captain just over a week ago. RIP Davide.
After the tragedy that occurred leading to all Serie A matches being called off last Sunday, neither side could afford to lose the game but at the same time, a draw wouldn’t be a greatresult either which on paper meant for a great encounter. The side from Naples needed a win after last week’s home defeat to one of Inter’s rivals for a UEFA Champions League place, Roma in order to keep tabs with reigning Scudetto champions and favourites, Juventus. On the other hand, the Nerazzurrineeded all three points to go ahead of Lazio and only two points behind Roma with a game in hand.
Spalletti opted for a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 in order to match Napoli man for man in the midfield instead of a formation to cover spaces since this Sarri team can exploit any team in world football on their day should they be given the space to do so. The former teammates of Davide Astori at Fiorentina, Borja Valero and Matías Vecino, were not in the Starting XI due to what people would guess is them not being in a suitable state mentally to focus and give 100% in this very important match other than because of an injury or lack of fitness. Captain Mauro Icardi was gladly welcomed back after missing the previous 4 matches through injury.
Napoli manager, Maurizio Sarri stuck with his fluid 4-3-3 system with the only change from the defeat at the hands of Roma last weekend being Polish International Piotr Zieliński getting dropped to the bench for the club’s all-time top goal scorer and arguably one of the most important players in the team, Marek Hamšík. The title chasers would stick to their style of play just like in every other match they have played this season whether that be against Manchester City or Benevento.
It was a great opening five minutes with both sides looking full of energy all over the pitch, applying great pressure to win possession back however just how both sides were great at getting the ball back, they were also both very poor at keeping a hold of it. Sloppy passes from the likes of Reina and Candreva for example caused the ball to be switched between the two sides for the opening few minutes.
Both teams operated with man to man defending so it would be a battle of matchups and individual quality. Example below is Hamsik and Allan sticking tight to both Gagliardini and Brozović even though they are very deep in their own half. Most teams playing away at the San Siro would have their midfield stay compact and not bother applying pressure when Inter have the ball so far back but this Napoli side are relentless and want to win the ball back as quickly as possible and this is their method of doing so.
Each player knows their job perfectly in a situation like this, even Insigne who is on the opposite side. He isn’t marking a man in particular, instead he is operating a space ready to pounce should the ball come to his side.
In the defensive phase, the home side kept it tight and compact limiting the space for Napoli to play quick, intricate passes in order to open up gaps in the defence. Instead, they had to be a lot more patient when they had the ball, switching it often and allowing their centre backs to have possession.
Although Inter were applying great pressure, the key was that they were doing it in the correct areas. Against lesser teams, pressure higher up the pitch (to the centre backs) will work as they do not have as much composure or quality for the most part. However, this Napoli side are one of the best technical sides in not only Italy, but in the world. Therefore, Spalletti clearly instructed his side to allow their central defenders to have the ball so that the passing lanes can be cut off and a good defensive structure can be maintained. In the image below, you can see Candreva and Perišić dropping to form a flat midfield four instead of pushing up higher to the fullbacks. Also, Rafinha is still keeping his man to man instruction to cut off the passing option to Jorginho who Napoli want on the ball as often as possible to orchestrate attacks.
A common theme for both sides whenever they attacked was to have someone operating the half space on the side the ball was on. So, should Napoli have the ball down their left-hand side, Hamsik would usually fill the half space in a more advanced position to support Insigne but also to drag players away to create space. Inter done the same thing with Candreva. The Italian winger would drift into the half space in between Koulibaly and Rui with the latter being dragged inwards to mark his man; this left a lot of space out wide for the pacey João Cancelo to exploit forcing Insigne to track back in the process.
At the interval, Spalletti made one tactical switch with Cancelo and D’Ambrosio switching sides. It may have seemed odd to begin with since it is known that the former doesn’t like playing on the left but the boss must have seen Insigne as a real threat since Napoli predominantly attacked down their left-hand side so having the more defensive fullback on that side made sense. Also, Cancelo could test Callejón’s defensive abilities and Allan was booked so attacking that side looked like a good option.
Tactically, both teams remained the same with the best chances falling to Inter as Škriniar hit the post with a glancing header from an in swinging free-kick and Ivan was wrongly called back for fouling Hysaj whilst in a great goal scoring position. Napoli may have had the majority of the possession but they struggled to break down the Nerazzurri’svery structured and highly disciplined defensive shape.
Napoli’s midfield runs are done very well and effectively however Inter were dealing with them very well defensively. Hamšík is the more attacking out of him and Allan so it was to no surprise to see the Slovak in more advanced positions with Insigne utilising the space he left. They do this to drag players out of their positions and thus create space to exploit however Gagliardini tracked his man perfectly whilst Insigne couldn’t exploit the space available well enough.
It was clear to see that Spalletti wasn’t looking to keep the ball like his counterpart however the direct style led to players forcing passes too quickly, unnecessarily. There were moments where Inter needed to take an extra second or two to just pick the right option or compose themselves to make an accurate pass. This killed many attacks which does ball down to the quality and awareness of a player rather than a tactic or instruction.
Tired legs and or minds begin to show for the first time in the match as Mertens and Allan both find space between Inter’s lines of defence and midfield. Hamšík threads a nice ball through to Mertens to break the midfield line whilst he then shows great individual quality to drift past the ever so reliable Milan Škriniar but he chose the wrong final option by shooting instead of playing in his teammate, Callejón.
Both managers made offensive changes in the final minutes as Sarri hoped a gap would open up due to tired legs whilst Spalletti was looking to catch them out on the counter as they pushed bodies further forward however neither side could find a break through and a draw was the fair result on the night with both sides coming as close as you can to scoring.
In my personal opinion, Spalletti got his tactics spot on. Unlike in games against Benevento and Crotone for example where he was too cautious for my liking, he managed this game well and on another day we could’ve won this game. The boss tends to do well in these fixtures so it was no surprise to me but my concern is obviously in the games we are expected to win such as next weekend. The game away to Sampdoria is a must win for a number of reasons that are too long to delve into but it’s a must win, as simple as that. Will the team be able to handle that pressure and turn in another good performance? We’ll have to wait and see but overall, I was very happy with the performance and the tactics put out as with some extra quality going forward, a victory could well have been on the cards. A great game to watch and a good performance to go with it.
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