There have been many strange results in the 28th week of the Italian Serie A, including Juventus losing their unbeaten record while visiting Genoa, then Fiorentina, Roma, and Torino also collapsed against the bottom teams. So it’s no wonder that Napoli were worried when Udinese had a comeback from a two-goal deficit before the half-time. But in the end, Napoli managed to win 4-2. Dries Mertens became a man of the match by scoring one goal and two assists.
In this match, Carlo Ancelotti as the Napoli coach made several changes after they lost to Red Bull Salzburg in the UEFA Europa League (although they qualified to the quarter-finals). Lorenzo Insigne, Raúl Albiol, Vlad Chiricheș, Amadou Diawara, and Fabián Ruiz were all still absent, so Amin Younes gets the chance to start. With a 4-4-2 formation, I Partenopei were still relying on Arkadiusz Milik and Dries Mertens as two forwards.
On the opposing side, Udinese played with the 3-5-2 formation. After returning from the suspension, Rolando Mandragora returned as a starter but this time as a defender. On the front lines, coach Davide Nicola entrusted to the duo of Kevin Lasagna and Ignacio Pussetto.
With a lineup like these, Udinese should have more control over the flank. But in reality, Napoli has more control over this area. Three of Napoli’s four goals were scored from the flank.
Napoli dominated the match through the flank
The match started hard, David Ospina had a clash on his head after colliding with Pussetto. He suffered a head injury, his head had to be bandaged, but decided to continue playing. Two of Udinese’s goals are arguably due to Ospina’s lack of positioning and diving, there may be an effect from this injury.
Towards the end of the first half, Ospina suddenly fell to the ground looked unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital and replaced by Alex Meret. Napoli have confirmed Ospina has been given the all-clear to return home from the hospital.
Two of the main strengths of Napoli in this match are they were effective attacking from the flanks, especially the left flank, and their superiority in set-piece situations. Napoli got their first chance in this match through Kalidou Koulibaly. That chance was started with a corner kick. Their third goal also created from a corner kick situation.
In general, Napoli were indeed better even though the last time they won was in the first leg against Salzburg in the Europa League. They controlled 66% of the ball possession although most of them happened in the defensive and middle third. This can be seen from the three highest number of touches Napoli recorded by Koulibaly (117 touches), Allan (98), and Nikola Maksimović (97). In the end, their number of passes (708) is doubled from Udinese (356).
In addition, the decision of the Udinese players not to apply pressure to the Napoli players also increasingly made Napoli able to gain more and more possession. This is understandable because the match is played at San Paolo Stadium, Naples. Udinese started to pressed only when Napoli had entered the final third.
Aware that Napoli almost always attacks through the flanks, the Udinese players move wide just when Napoli’s ball has reached Udinese’s defensive third. But filling the flank with defensive players is not the right way to reduce Napoli’s attack.
On Napoli’s first and second goals, what was seen was Udinese could open the half-space or between the flank and centre. These empty spaces could eventually be used by Napoli players to make goalscoring opportunities.
On the first goal, Younes was able to utilize the empty space with a curling kick. While on the second goal, Mertens who maximized the empty space to send a cross that finished by José Callejón.
Dominating the game made Napoli also managed to record 14 shots (five on targets) for the whole 90 minutes. The four goals produced by Napoli were the statistical consequences they recorded in this match.
Udinese created a high number of chances relative to their possession
For the size of the team which only gain 34% ball possession, Udinese were arguably more effective than Napoli. They managed to make 12 shots (three on target) despite their low ball possession rate.
The opportunities they created were generated from the individual abilities of their players. On the first goal, Sandro and Seko Fofana were instrumental in tricking two Napoli players before Fofana sent an assist for Lasagna.
While on the second goal, Fofana tricked Younes and Allan in front of the Napoli penalty box. He then sent the ball to the Pussetto which passed again to Hidde ter Avest. Fofana himself completed the opportunity after he received a pass from Ter Avest in front of Napoli’s goal.
The match went more interesting after the scoreline was 2-2. Napoli did not want to be embarrassed in front of their own supporters, so they’re continuing to attack. While Udinese also did not look satisfied with this draw, so they tried to attack through a counter attack. After Fofana’s goal, Napoli managed to record eight more shots. While Udinese recorded six more.
One of Udinese’s weaknesses which Napoli successfully exploited in this match was that Udinese often lost possession. On Napoli’s fourth goal, for example, it was started by Rodrigo De Paul who lost the ball when Udinese were trying to make a quick counter attack.
On the fourth goal, it can also be seen if Udinese played narrow again. Maybe they want the players to remain compact. But it actually made Mertens free on the flank, making him easy to cut inside and shoot.
Udinese could not recover after that fourth goal. Throughout the remaining 20 minutes of the match, Napoli continued to dominate ball possession. Although Udinese could launch three more shots, that doesn’t mean much because all of them were off target.
In general, we might see it’s not so surprising that Udinese loses 4-2 to Napoli. Napoli showed more dominance through ball possession and attacks through the left flank. But even though Udinese did not have high ball possession, they could still create many goalscoring opportunities. No wonder then that there is a six-goal drama at the San Paolo. Udinese must have felt sorry for messing up their comeback because they were playing too narrow after the half time.
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