Carlo Ancelotti’s first season has been a very tough one, but he has done a good job so far at the San Paolo. In Serie A, they are currently nine points clear of third place Inter Milan. However, they trail Juventus by 11 points, who brought in Ronaldo this summer and are still the only unbeaten side in the top European leagues.
Despite good league form, there has been disappointment in Europe for the side this season, a tough Champions League group, with Liverpool and PSG saw them enter the Europa League. This weekend they faced a Fiorentina side who sit six points off a place in the Champions League, could Ancelotti build form to help his side in the Europa League this season? We will in this tactical analysis.
Ancelotti opted to play a 4-4-2 with wingers come strikers Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne starting up front. Fabian, who has impressed this season started in midfield with Brazilian Allan. There was also a start for highly-rated centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly. Fiorentina played with a back five in front of keeper Alban Lafont. They had three in midfield and a front two of Luis Muriel and Federico Chiesa.
The Fiorentina Press
Right from the start, Fiorentina faced Napoli with a high press which was very compact. This blocked any forward passing lines for Napoli to use. Therefore, it was tough for Napoli to link together through the centre.
Napoli resorted to playing side-ways and backwards passes. This then led to Napoli looking to play directly over the Fiorentina defence. This happened with a long ball, but with the back three of Fiorentina, possession often swapped when this happened, with the ball finding a Fiorentina player or going out of possession. Also, with Alban Lafont in goal, any ball they cleared the Fiorentina back three was easily picked up by the young French goalkeeper.
How Napoli counter-acted this?
Napoli set up more compact and despite not sitting deeply, they did not chase the Fiorentina ball, but in fact stayed compact. And waited for a Fiorentina mistake, who were sloppy in possession with only a 72% pass accuracy. When they did get the ball, they would look to counter-attack in wide areas.
This was made possible due to the speed of Napoli attacking players such as Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne. but also, the gap between the centre-backs and wing-backs in the Fiorentina defence and this is how Napoli gained most of their chances.
When Napoli won possession, they used clever movement in the final third to create space in the wide areas. In the below image, you can see how the movement from Zielinski pulls out the Fiorentina defender to create space for Mertens. This is led to Mertens having a shot go wide from a small angle.
On the counter-attack, Napoli were superb at getting in wide positions in-between Dado and Ceccherini. They could not go through the Fiorentina back three, but Napoli could go around it. But at every opportunity Napoli had to score, they were sloppy to finish with only a 17% of their shots landing on target.
However, when Napoli entered the Fiorentina final third, the Fiorentina defence would get very compact, and this proved a problem for Napoli. They could find the ball in wide areas, but with players such as Insigne and Mertens, Napoli did not have much height in the box to win the ball in such a compact zone. This led to many attempts to find a Napoli striker being blocked or long shots which sailed over the bar.
The only way in which Napoli did create chances was in lapses in concentration in the Fiorentina defence. Below Bryan Dado is on the wrong side of Zielinski and this allows Zielinski to make a run-in space into the box. When he receives the ball, he nods the ball to Insigne at the edge of the box, who the Fiorentina back three fail to pick up. However, it was a point-blank save from Lafont who was excellent all game.
If this game showed anything, it was the prospect of young French goalkeeper Alban Lafont. The 20-year old who signed from Toulouse this summer made four fantastic saves in the match which showed how good his reflexes were, with many coming from short range. These saves earned his side a point.
Lafont also showed good mobility, which was essential for Fiorentina in this match as they high pressed. Any ball which beat the Fiorentina defensive line he was able to collect. The only downfall in his performance was his distribution, but this could be put down to team performance.
As Fiorentina pressed high up in the game, it was disappointing to see how they used possession. They could have easily kept possession so many times in the match but opted to play long, direct balls instead. This led to them giving Napoli possession back easily with Fiorentina having only 40% possession and failed to assert any dominance on the match despite some excellent pressing.
The stalemate means that Napoli are now 11 points off the pace of league and with the club out of the Coppa Italia, they now just have the Europa League to realistically to compete in this season. Their round of 32 clash comes against Zurich this month. For Fiorentina, they face in-form Atalanta in the semi-final of the Coppa Italia after thrashing Roma 7-1.
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