Two first half goals in the span of four minutes, saw Napoli share a point with 10-man Milan, as they remain four points clear of the Rossonieri for second place.
Walter Mazzarri made one change to his side that defeated Genoa last weekend. Juan Zuniga replaced Pablo Armero as a wingback in Mazzarri’s 3-5-2. Edinson Cavani and Goran Pandev played as strikers while Marek Hamsik, Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili and Christian Maggio made up the midfield five.
Massimiliano Allegri made three changes to the side that gave up a two-goal lead against Fiorentina last week. Milan played in their traditional 4-3-3, which saw Giampaolo Pazzini replace the suspended Mario Balotelli, Robinho started over Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin Constant was chosen over Mattia De Sciglio. The main headline going into this match was whether El Shaarawy was fit or if Allegri didn’t want to risk him getting booked, in which he’d be suspended for next week’s clash against Juventus.
Milan had the ball for majority of the first half, and this forced Napoli to drop into a 5-3-2. Mazzarri’s men stood off and allowed Milan to dictate the match, and sacrificed the wings, so that Milan wouldn’t find space in between the lines. Ignazio Abate was a key outlet throughout the game, as he often got forward, and delivered a few crosses into the box. Boateng drifting centrally, also played a factor, and the Ghanaian midfielder had a few chances to put the Rossonieri ahead in the opening minutes, but was denied by Morgan De Sanctis.
When Milan didn’t have the ball, they’d press the Napoli midfield, and drop into a 4-5-1. The wingers occasionally tracked back to help their defenders, but Boateng did a poor job with his defensive duties, which led to Napoli’s equalizer.
Boateng came off injured in the 37th minute, and M’Baye Niang’s introduction balanced their 4-5-1 as he tracked phenomenally. Niang’s introduction halted the impact Zuniga and Hamsik were having on the left flank.
Flamini vs Hamsik
This was the main battle in the first half, which like the score line, ended in a draw. Both men had great opening halves, and they were both involved in the only goals of the match. Flamini made forward runs occasionally, which eventually led to his goal, when he ran past Hamsik and fired a loose ball past De Sanctis. With Flamini moving forward, Hamsik had to be disciplined, and he was pegged back, which affected Napoli’s counter attack if it didn’t initially go through the Slovakian midfielder.
Due to Boateng staying higher up the pitch, Hamsik was able to connect with Zuniga and push forward up the field. There was no surprise that Hamsik was involved with the goal, Zuniga and Hamsik combined yet again as Hamsik ran past Flamini and the Slovakian midfielder played in Pandev who equalized from six yards out. Hamsik and Flamini played decisive roles in the goals, but faded away in the second half.
The Italian has been the focal point of Milan’s midfield since arriving at the club, playing as a regista. Montolivo has made an impact in this hardworking Milan midfield, and usually when Montolivo has a good game, the Rossonieri win. Montolivo enjoyed the opening 30 minutes of the match, as Napoli insisted on allowing the midfielder time on the ball.
Montolivo connected with Abate, as the Italian fullback was his main outlet, and this resulted in several crosses played in.
Once Napoli fell behind, Mazzarri encouraged Pandev and a few of his teammates, to get closer to Montolivo. The closer they got to the Italian midfielder the less of an impact he had, and to no surprise, Montolivo completed more passes in his opening 30 minutes, compared to the entire match.
There was no tactical adjustments at half-time and the game proceeded in the same pattern. Both sides sat off and allowed the centre backs to spread passes across the pitch, as midfielders were being pressed. Milan had most of the possession, but was unable to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.
Milan was unable to provide penetrating passes or spark any creativity in the final third, and Napoli was happy to soak up pressure, and break on the counter. Both sides struggled in front of goal and it was down to the lack of service to the strikers.
Pazzini failed to get a shot on target, while Abbiati grabbed Cavani’s one chance. Cavani and Pazzini were isolated, as both sides struggled to create a link between the midfield and strikers.
Mazzarri made straight swaps by introducing Lorenzo Insigne for Pandev and Armero for Hamsik. Armero nearly earned Napoli three points, but his injury time shot was saved by Abbiati, while Insigne did a better job linking with the midfield and Cavani.
The match turned on its head in the 72nd minute, when Flamini was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Zuniga. El Shaarawy replaced Robinho, while Emanuele Calaio replaced Maggio. Mazzarri introduced another striker, while Allegri brought on El Shaarawy, who’s capable of tracking back and defending, as well as breaking on the counter.
Milan’s final change was another player swap, as De Sciglio came on for Constant. The changes didn’t have any significance to the match, nor were their any changes of shape. Napoli pressed efficiently when Milan were down to 10 men, forcing them to concede possession easily, but Mazzarri’s men failed to take the lead. Calaio also came close to winning the game in injury time, but his header flew wide of the net.
Two moments of brilliance keep Napoli four points ahead of Milan for the final automatic Champions League spot. It was a dull encounter, which saw both sides create few chances, but leaves Mazzarri the happier of managers.
With Juventus away next week, Milan will be looking to stay on pace with Napoli, as Fiorentina is lurking over their shoulder.
- Ignazio Abate
- Juan Zuniga
- Paolo Cannavaro