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Napoli 1-0 Roma


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Napoli narrowed the gap with Roma to three points as Jose Callejon’s second half header handed Rudi Garcia’s men their second loss of the season.


Rafa Benitez was pleased to welcome back Gonzalo Higuain and Raul Albiol to his starting XI, while Blerim Dzemaili slotted in midfield alongside Gokhan Inler.

Rudi Garcia was forced into making a few alterations as he was without the injured Francesco Totti, while Daniele De Rossi is currently serving a three-match suspension. Miralem Pjanic, Michel Bastos and Alessandro Florenzi formed an attacking trio behind Gervinho, while Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan retained their roles in midfield.

This was a tight affair in which Roma’s wastefulness in the final third prevented Garcia’s side from keeping pace with Juventus.


With both sides adopting identical formations, a significant feat in the match was based on which side defended better without the ball. Neither side opted to press high up the pitch, as they focused on limiting space in midfield. Nainggolan and Pjanic pressed Napoli’s double-pivot, while substitute Rodrigo Taddei tracked Marek Hamsik’s movement.

Likewise, Napoli’s front two occasionally pressed Roma’s centre backs, as they aimed to contain Roma’s threat in midfield. Unfortunately, Pjanic’s movement and Taddei’s energy exposed Napoli’s midfield. However, both sides’ persistence on negating the opposition’s full-backs was pivotal.

The two sides possess attacking full-backs that provide width, but it was evident that both sets of wingers were instructed to prevent the opposing full-backs from pushing forward. With that being said, this meant that central areas were congested, thus explaining why both sides struggled to create chances when they sustained possession.

Roma on the break

Garcia’s team selection indicated Roma’s approach – the away side was aiming to play on the counter with three runners in their attack. Garcia’s tactics were logical, as Gervinho – arguably the best player in the match – consistently posed a threat on the break.

In the opening 20 minutes, Gervinho had already dragged a shot wide of the net, and ignited a break in which Taddei’s heavy touched ruined a legitimate goal-scoring opportunity. Afterwards, the Ivorian’s pace troubled Benitez’s men. Gervinho ran at Cristian Maggio and played a key pass to Florenzi – who should’ve shot – but the Italian winger conceded possession with a poor pass. Minutes later, Gervinho ran behind the Napoli defence and held up the ball, before teeing up Bastos – but Pepe Reina pushed away his long-distance effort.

Roma’s pace in attack constantly exposed Benitez’s back line but their decision-making in Napoli’s third was putrid, and a final ball eluded the away side.

Midfield battle

Seeing as both sides were unable to utilize their full-backs, the battle in central areas was significant. Strootman was forced to leave the match in the 12th minute due to injury, thus forcing Garcia to introduce Taddei alongside Nainggolan. Although Nainggolan struggled to impose his authority, Taddei and Pjanic outshone Dzemaili and Inler in midfield.

In the opening half, Taddei drifted into pockets of space to receive the ball, while playing key passes in midfield, and linking play in wide areas. Ultimately, the substitute was Roma’s most proactive player in midfield, thus signifying Napoli’s poor first half display.

Despite not being at his best, Pjanic influenced Roma’s attack in the second half. The Bosnian midfielder dropped into deeper positions, and provided the guile Roma lacked in the first half. It was Pjanic that played an exceptional ball into Gervinho that should’ve given the away side the lead, and although he was unable to replicate a pass of that quality, the Bosnian was Garcia’s spark in midfield.

Pjanic nearly crafted Roma’s opener when he slid a delicate ball into Bastos, but Florenzi couldn’t convert the Brazilian’s cutback pass. The Bosnian drifted into nifty positions to receive the ball, and was Roma’s link between midfield and attack – Pjanic did all he could.

Napoli, on the other hand, struggled to dictate the midfield. Despite Napoli looking dangerous when Hamsik received the ball in pockets of space in Roma’s third, the Slovakian midfielder was ineffective. Roma dominated central areas and created the better chances on the counter, but Napoli coped with their threat in midfield.

Second half

Prior to Callejon’s winner, both managers turned to their bench in search of a spark. Henrique and Lorenzo Insigne were introduced in the second half, and while the former’s inclusion didn’t affect the match, the latter offered Napoli mobility and pace behind Higuain.

One can argue that Napoli’s attacking three is superior without Hamsik, and Insigne’s arrival created more space for the likes of Callejon and Mertens to dominate. Callejon had already missed two great opportunities to hand Napoli the lead, while Mertens gift-wrapped a chance for Higuain, but the Argentine skied his shot over the bar.

Garcia, on the other hand, called upon Adem Ljajic for the unimpressive Florenzi. Ljajic’s persistence to locate pockets of space, and play quick intricate passes around the final third, while posing a goal-scoring threat led to the decision. Florenzi epitomized Roma’s wastefulness in front of goal, as his tame effort from an excellent Maicon pass, along with his inability to play a final ball around the edge of the box summed up his night.

Napoli’s winner came in the final 15 minutes of the second half as the shackled Faouzi Ghoulam finally busted into an advanced position – after receiving a pass from Mertens – and delivered a fantastic cross towards the back post towards Callejon, and the Spaniard nodded the ball past Morgan De Sanctis.

The second half was split with both sides creating legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, but Napoli’s attacking three improved in the latter stages, and Benitez’s side pounced when their full backs advanced further up the pitch.


Despite producing the better football for larger portions of the match, Roma failed to solve Pepe Reina, as they drop maximum points for the second time this season. Garcia’s approach was logical, but his men lacked conviction in the final third, and a top-class striker that can score goals when Totti is unavailable.

“We decided to wait for Napoli and go on the counter with Gervinho, Florenzi and Bastos. We had many scoring opportunities and only missed that little bit of luck to convert them,” Garcia said.

“Mattia came back from international duty with a slight injury and couldn’t play 90 minutes, but the truth is I didn’t want to leave too much space to the opposition full-backs, as Maggio and Ghoulam could do damage. That’s why I chose some energy on the flanks.”

The victory sees Napoli close within touching distance of Roma for second place – while maintaining an imperious record at the Sao Paolo – but it also ends the title race in Italy, as Juventus now hold a 14 point lead at the top.

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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Arsenal 2-0 Napoli

ImageArsenal produced a scintillating performance against Napoli at the Emirates Stadium.


Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that defeated Swansea at the Liberty Stadium last weekend. Tomas Rosicky joined Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey in Arsenal’s attacking three, behind Olivier Giroud, while Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini played in the double-pivot.

Rafa Benitez made one change to his starting eleven that comfortably defeated Genoa, by introducing Marek Hamsik alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon. Goran Pandev led the line for the injured Gonzalo Higuain, while Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler formed a midfield duo.

Arsenal’s movement, quick passing, and constant interchanging in the final third proved to be too much for Benitez’s men, as the Gunner’s flexed their muscle against an inexperienced Napoli side.

Formation battle

The 4-2-3-1 has become a favoured formation to instill in modern day football over the past few years. And despite both sides preferring to use this system, their approaches provided different variations. Arsenal’s double-pivot prefers to sit deeper and play forward passes, while Napoli’s duo like to get forward and provide an offensive presence.

The main difference was in the attacking three – Wenger fielded two central players out wide in Ramsey and Ozil, while Benitez’s wide options were direct attackers, who thrive on quick counters. But the key battle would involve the no.10’s and how both were utilized. Ozil glided across the final third, receiving the ball in dangerous positions, while Hamsik failed to have a significant impact on the match due to a lack of service.


Hamsik attempted to drop deep into midfield to receive the ball and push his men forward, but Arsenal’s superiority in possession was vital, along with Napoli’s inability to retain it.

Arsenal down the right

There was significant feat in Arsenal’s play in the first half, which virtually led to both goals scored – as they persistently attacked Napoli down the right side. With Napoli’s winger’s sitting fairly narrow, Arsenal had space to attack down the right flank. It must also be said that while Insigne could’ve done a better job in protecting Juan Zuniga, the Colombian’s work-rate was shambolic.

Bacary Sagna played a forward pass to Giroud, who did well to hold up the ball for Ramsey who surged into a heap of space, while Zuniga casually jogged back. With Napoli’s defence caught out of position, Ramsey cut the ball back to an open Ozil, who produced a breathtaking finish to beat Pepe Reina.


A few minutes later, Napoli failed to clear their zone from a simple throw-in. Flamini dispossessed Miguel Britos’ pass towards Hamsik, playing in Ozil – as Zuniga watched – and the German maestro flicked the ball into the path of a near-post run from Giroud, who thumped the ball into the net.


Benitez tinkered with his wingers swapping Callejon and Insigne – which was logical based on the Spaniard’s discipline – and the change saw a drop in Arsenal’s impact on the right. Nevertheless, the Gunners targeted Zuniga and enjoyed their best spell of the match down the right side, which arguably earned them three points.

Arsenal’s movement

A recurring theme in Arsenal’s great run of form has been Wenger’s will to overload central areas. Ozil’s lateral movement in the final third has opened gaps for Arsenal players to penetrate, and has also provided more options going forward. Wenger’s decision to fill his attacking positions with players that prefer to play centrally was interesting, and it was pivotal to their dominance in the first half.


Ozil, Ramsey and Rosicky interchanged positions constantly throughout the match, which caused Napoli’s midfield several problems. Ramsey moved centrally at times to prevent Arsenal from being overrun in midfield, but he also attempted to penetrate the left flank.


Arsenal’s passing tempo was quick – their movement was fluid and their ability to interchange dragged Benitez’s men out of position, thus leading to the Gunners’ dominance. Its been sometime since we’ve seen an Arsenal side play with such guile and fluidity – this can be attributed to the arrival of Ozil – furthermore highlighting the significance of his deadline day signing.


For what it’s worth, it’s unsure as to whether Napoli would’ve settled into the match had Zuniga produced a stronger performance. Benitez’s men dropped into two banks of four without the ball with Hamsik and Pandev closing down Arteta and Flamini. Arsenal struggled to push forward in attack until Rosicky, Ramsey and Ozil dropped deeper to help push the Gunners forward. Napoli was defensively organized, but a lapse in concentration from the Colombian fullback prevented Napoli’s press from nullifying Arsenal’s threat in central areas, as they were forced to chase the match.

However, Arsenal’s attempt to press Napoli when they played from the back had more of an impact on the match – seeing as it’s a rare feat amongst teams playing in Serie A. Benitez’s men struggled to sustain possession in the midfield area, so they aimed to push forward from the back. Wenger’s men squeezed Napoli in their own third and Napoli was unable to string passes together – thus leading to Arsenal threatening on the break.


Napoli’s press was logical considering they didn’t want Arsenal’s holding midfielders to dictate the tempo of the match, but the North London side’s movement in the final third was exceptional. As for Napoli, their inability to sustain possession was an issue, as they lacked cohesion going forward, and Pandev was an isolated figure upfront.


Second half

The second half lacked the flair showcased in the opening 45 minutes, as Arsenal sat off, allowing Napoli to take control of possession. Arsenal dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball and was unable to move forward as a unit – resulting in several audacious shots from outside the box.

Insigne looked like Napoli’s main threat when running at defenders, but his decision making in the final third was poor. Benitez tinkered with his squad, pushing Callejon upfront and Dries Mertens to the left. Later on Duvan Zapata entered the match as the lone striker, but he had no influence in Napoli’s attack.

Napoli improved in the second half, but that was down to Arsenal’s cautious approach.


Arsenal’s dominance on the right flank, along with their movement in the final third, allowed the Gunners to blitz Benitez’s men.

“I just believe Arsenal started with the right intensity, without any mistakes. We made a mistake early on and conceded a goal,” Benitez said. 

Benitez’s men were poor on the night, and although lack of experience could be a factor, it was shocking to see the Napoli manager do nothing about it. His changes were strictly player swaps, which weren’t adventurous. In fairness, he might’ve assumed the match was gone and attempted to prevent a blow out, but his initial game plan is difficult to critique, as Napoli didn’t cope with Arsenal’s early pressure.

“I think [Mesut Özil] had an outstanding first half. Everything you want from a fantastic player – teamwork, skill, passing, shooting – so just sit there and enjoy it. I loved him in Madrid as well, I must say. We were just lucky to have got him,” Wenger said.

Earning maximum points in your home fixtures are pivotal in any Champions League group, and this was an impressive Arsenal performance, led by the magnificent Mesut Ozil. His movement and tactical intelligence has been beneficial to Arsenal – the Gunners produced quick, fluid football, as they’re displaying signs of sheer confidence and a level of unpredictability that they’ve lacked over the past few years.

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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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