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Napoli 1-3 Juventus: Juventus’ clinical finishing sinks Rafa Benitez’s unadventurous Napoli

CARLO HERMANN/AFP/Getty Images)

CARLO HERMANN/AFP/Getty Images)

Juventus avenged their Supercoppa Italiana misfortunes to claim their first win at the San Paolo in 14 years.

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Massimiliano Allegri handed Martin Caceres a start at right back for Stephan Lichtsteiner, while Arturo Vidal sat ahead of Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba.

Rafa Benitez also opted to leave his attacking six unchanged with Jonathan De Guzman joining Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon in an attacking trio behind Gonzalo Higuain.

In another slow burning contest between two of the top sides in the country, Juventus’ clinical finishing in front of goal was enough to sink Napoli.

Pattern 

While Allegri and Benitez adopted the same attacking personnel, both managers were reluctant to stray away from their initial Super Coppa shape. Unsurprisingly, this meant that the pattern of the match didn’t differ, as the slow, patient buildups that lacked creativity and guile in the final third were evident at the San Paolo.

With both sides displaying discipline and organization without the ball, the non-existent fluidity in attack led to a static, uninspiring match. Put simply, Juve dominated possession, and Napoli intended on breaking quickly in transition.

Without the ball

However, here Napoli were better structured when they dropped into two deep banks of four. Walter Gargano and David Lopez limited space between the lines ahead of the back four, and they received help from De Guzman who tucked infield to limit space in central areas.

Lopez Gargano

Ultimately, this was a logical approach considering Allegri’s decision to field four ball-playing midfielders, as there was an evident lack of invention in central areas. While Callejon was responsible for negating Patrice Evra, Caceres received space on the right to exploit due to De Guzman being pulled into the midfield battle. Oddly, Caceres was reluctant to push forward into this space, yet when the Uruguayan advanced forward he forced Rafael Cabral to make a key save, and delivered a well-weighed ball across the six-yard box that his teammates failed to attack.

Juve equally dropped deeper into a 4-4-1-1 without the ball, opposed to pressing higher up the pitch. Marchisio and Pogba pushed out into wide areas, Pirlo monitored Hamsik’s movement, and Tevez dropped off to track the deep lying Napoli midfielder.

Napoli struggled to create chances from open play, but they continued to pose a threat in transition. The home side’s best – and sole – chance in the opening half saw Hamsik run past three Juventus midfielders, before the ball fell to De Guzman in the box, but the Dutch international skied the ball over the net.

Juventus lacks variety in attack

The one worry for Allegri moving forward was the overall quality of the performance. While Juve dominated possession, and were rarely tested for large portions of the match, both penetration and guile remain non-existent in big matches.

Pogba’s opener was a moment of individual brilliance, while Caceres’ winner was a well-executed set piece combined with poor marking. Juventus didn’t cope well against Napoli’s reactive approach, and with a shortage of creative options available in the final third, Allegri’s side were bound to encounter difficulties.

Juve were often free to play out the back with Pirlo dropping in between centre backs Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci to play the first pass, but the admirable work from Lopez, De Guzman and Gargano deprived the away side from linking midfield and attack. With Vidal fielded in a trequartista role, the Chilean’ successfully completed tackles higher up the pitch, but his powerful runs from deep were sorely missed.

Allegri’s midfield quartet lacked ideas in central areas, and there was a vast difference in terms of attempted take-ons across the pitch. The decision to overload central areas with ball-playing midfielders wasn’t necessarily incorrect, but Napoli’s ability to maintain a compact shape, along with a lack of variety in attacking areas worked against the current champions.

Juventus Napoli take ons

Tevez – Higuain

Tevez and Higuain were the key men in the Supercoppa Italiana final, scoring both goals for their respected clubs, but the Argentinian strikers were ineffective at the San Paolo. The former was involved in Juve’s best moves in last month’s encounter, while the latter served as a reliable reference point in the box.

Higuain Tevez Napoli Juve

The problem here is that the Argentinian strikers often received the ball yards away from the box.

Here, there was minimal space for Tevez to operate in between the lines. Nonetheless, the Juventus striker was involved in some of their best moves, as his incisive pass should have resulted in a Caceres goal, and he was involved in the buildup to Pogba’s opener.

Higuain, on the other hand, struggled because Napoli sat too deep out of possession. The Napoli striker was involved in his side’s sole break in the opening half, but his involvement was scarce due to Benitez’s caution.

Second half changes

Apart from an individual slalom from Lopez in the opening minutes of the second half, the pattern of the match remained unchanged until Benitez introduced Dries Mertens for Hamsik. De Guzman moved to a central role, and Napoli gained an additional direct threat through the Belgian. Mertens’ impact was immediate, as he constantly ran at Caceres – resulting in the Uruguayan receiving a booking – whilst earning, and delivering the corner that led to Miguel Britos’ equalizer.

Allegri quickly responded to taking the lead shortly after Caceres’ goal, by replacing Pogba for Lichtsteiner. Juve sat deeper in the final 20 minutes, reverting to a 5-3-2, with Vidal and Marchisio drifting wide to protect their wingbacks from being overloaded.

Benitez reacted by introducing Manolo Gabbiadini and Duvan Zapata, thus moving to a traditional 4-4-2. Napoli was handed the onus to break down Allegri’s side, but only received chances in the latter stages of stoppage time: Mertens intercepted Angelo Ogbonna’s stray pass and slid in Zapata, but he overran the ball and was booked for simulation. Then, Mertens’ penetrative pass into the box for Higuain, nearly led to an equalizer, but Giorgio Chiellini’s last-ditch tackle preserved Juve’s lead.

The decision to introduce Mertens improved Napoli’s impetus, but the timing of Caceres winner, along with Allegri’s alteration to a five-man defence, halted Napoli’s attempt to claim an equalizer.

Conclusion

A second tilt between the two sides in the last month resulted in a dire encounter that relied on clinical finishing, opposed to an abundance of tactical themes.

Benitez’s attempt to thwart Juventus’ activity in open play was nearly successful, but their threat on the counter was limited. Neither side offered enough creativity and guile in the final third or central areas, and found joy in wide areas.

Although neither side was fully deserving of maximum points, Allegri’s Juve proved that they have enough talent to overcome poor performances, and cruise past their domestic rivals.

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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal 2-0 Napoli

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pressing

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.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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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