After two second places in the last two years, Napoli is at an important turning point; improve their level, tactics, and players, to contest the title and break Juventus’s monopoly. Carlo Ancelotti, in his second year in Napoli, is ready to take this challenge and to valorize some great players like in the last year, with his style of play extremely fluid and ball-oriented.

I will begin this scout report with a tactical analysis of the style of play Carlo Ancelotti looks to improve at Napoli after his, good, first year. Then I will do an analysis of the Napoli’s players, and how they can fit properly Ancelotti’s tactics, and I will see the differences between this year and the last one.

Napoli’s build-up tactics and the differences between the two full-backs.

Following an idea presented by Carlo Ancelotti during last year’s big matches, in the first friendlies, we can see the principles and the tactics of Napoli’s build-up phase.

Starting from a 4-4-2, we will have a 3-2-4-1 (or a more offensive 3-1-5-1, depending on the opposition’s pressing) during the positional attack phases; while Ghoulam goes high on the field exploiting the left flank, the right-back (Hysaj, Malcuit, or the former Empoli player Di Lorenzo) stays narrow near the two centre-backs, Manolas and Koulibaly, creating a back-line of three.

The holding midfielders are the central couple (usually Fabian Ruiz and Allan), and they are an easy way to escape from pressing; the depth is granted from the striker, while the width is the prerogative of Callejon on the right and Ghoulam on the left. Insigne, as a left-winger and Mertens as a “trequartista”, will occupy the half-spaces, being close to each other to have some fast combinations to attack the opponent’s goal.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Napoli tactics are easy to see during the build-up phase: 3-2-4-1 formation with Hysaj narrow to compose the back-three, Ghoulam high on the field, at the same height of Callejon on the other flank, pushing the left-wing, Elmas, in the left half-space.

Having a back-three and two holding midfielder will make the ball come out from the defence in an easier and more fluid way. While Allan is a player who is great in duels and tackles (the 1st player in the whole Serie A in stolen balls, 6th for tackles, 11th in duels), Fabiàn Ruiz is a great player with an incredible technique and capacity to resist pressing. He is one of the main outputs in the build-up phase, and he is even a good ball carrier to assist the offensive phase.

Following the 3-2-4-1 formation, we can see Napoli’s positional fluidity even in the earliest parts of the build-up; sometimes there are rotations between the right-back, the right-wing and one of the midfielders, to mess up opponents pressure lines.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
The same 3-2-4-1 formation, but different interpreters: the right centre-back position is occupied by right-midfielder Elmas, while Hysaj is higher on the pitch as a right-winger. Callejon, the real right-wing, is narrow to cover Elmas original position. Positional fluidity and Elmas can play the ball watching the opponent’s goal.

When Napoli is in numerical superiority just with the two centre-backs, and need to attack faster, they accept to have only the two centre-backs in the last line during the build-up, adding one player in the opposite half.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Hysaj isn’t needed in the building-up back-three; so he is higher on the flank pushing inside Callejon, creating a 2-3-5 situation (Milik is a little bit flat, not giving depth). Napoli didn’t have problems to play with just the two centre-backs on the last line.

In the end, we can infer that there are some tactics prepared for the build-up phase; while the standard one is the first we have seen in this paragraph, Ancelotti has the flexibility to change depending on the opponent, using the tactical intelligence of his players like Callejon to use some positional rotations to change the situation.

Attacking depth and width at the same time

Making an analysis of the preferred Napoli’s attacking tactics, it’s easy to see the goal of attacking the width on both flanks at the same time while occupying the half-spaces with two players, putting the opponent’s defence in front of a doubt; widen themselves opening spaces for ball-through plays, or stay narrow and give space on the flanks?

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Ghoulam is on the ball on the left flank; Milik makes a run in-depth to lower the opponent’s defence, while Callejon stays wide to stretch them. Mertens and Insigne are in the half-spaces, free to receive the ball (Mertens will receive and then open to Callejon, alone on the right).

If Napoli haven’t got the possibility of playing with fast transitions shifting the side as we have seen in the image above, they will have a patient ball-playing, looking to overload a flank and have positional superiority, to exploit the ability with the ball of players like Mertens or Insigne, and then play a ball-through to Milik or a change on the other flank, where there is always a player who grants width.

When Napoli switch play to the other flank, they want to have positional and numerical superiority to attack in-depth with fast combinations, and then put inside dangerous crosses to find the striker, Milik, or the players on the other flank, ready to shoot in good positions.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Positional superiority after a change of play on the weak flank; Milik attacks in-depth, opening the half-space for Mertens, alone. Callejon gives the ball to Hysaj, who will serve Mertens, and attacks the width. Mertens will give the ball back to Callejon.
Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Continuation of the previous image; Callejon will cross the ball with a first touch cross, there is a 2vs2 situation inside the last 16mt; Milik has got an advantage on the first post, Insigne will attack the second post, having a great chance to score.

Anatomy of a goal scored: Mertens’s goal against OM

I chose to do a tactical analysis of this goal because it demonstrates Napoli‘s main tactics and the skills of the best offensive players.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Positional rotations: Elmas lowers himself as a third centre-back, triggering pressure from the opponent and opening spaces for Insigne in the left half-space. Hysaj is high on the right flank, pushing Callejon higher, and close to Mertens and Milik in the right half-space; remember this. The 3-2-4-1 is composed another time, but with positional rotations, it can open spaces in the opponent lines.

Elmas is attracting pressure, and this frees Insigne in the left half-space; he will serve him with a great pass with the right foot. Insigne can use his technical skills to create danger in the opponent’s area.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Insigne stops the ball and can take a look at the situation, thanks to Ghoulam who drags away an opponent. Milik goes in-depth, and Mertens waits in the half-space, ready to fill the area in a second moment. Thanks to the overload seen above, and to Hysaj who had pushed him higher, Callejon is free and can attack the blind-side.

Insigne to Callejon (a classic play for Napoli) and this is a great danger. It’s good to see in the image above how the whole line of 4 of the 3-2-4-1 seen before is present in this attack.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
The man who was marking Mertens goes to disturb Callejon, but with a first touch combination, he will serve Mertens, completely free due to the 3vs2 situation seen before; shoot and goal.

An eye to the defence: differences between Manolas and Raùl Albiol

Waiting for new offensive signings, the main arrival of the season is the defender Kostas Manolas; the former Roma player has been one of the best defenders of the Italian top-flight in the last few years, and he has got to replace Raùl Albiol alongside the giant Kalidou Koulibaly. He has got really different skills from Albiol: the latter is a 33-years-old centre-back who is great in defensive readings and has got good marking skills, while Manolas is a really fast player, who has got his best skills in man-marking and recoveries, covering depth very well.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Hysaj is high on the pitch opening space on the right flank; Manolas follows Luis Suarez covering depth very well and closing the danger.

He isn’t a guide for the whole defence like Albiol (this role will be Koulibaly’s prerogative), but, thanks to his pace and ability in recoveries, he can allow Napoli’s defence to raise up the backline some metres when attacking, aiming to shorten distances between defenders and midfielders; this is possible because thanks to Koulibaly and Manolas’s pace, now they can be not afraid of fast transitions with long balls from opponents, as they were with a slow defender like Raul Albiol who had some problems in covering depth.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Here Manolas (in the Roma shirt against Napoli) is guiding a defence who maintain a high line; this is possible thanks to Manolas’s pace. In this ball-through played to Verdi, Manolas has recovered the ball with a great tackle after a sprint.

So Napoli can raise up the line and be more offensive this year thanks to Manolas’s pace and ability to recover and cover depth; this will have an impact even in the offensive phase, permitting Napoli to maintain short and compact lines, aiming to recover the ball one second after the loss, and to be proactive every time.

How the players from Napoli will fit Carlo Ancelotti’s tactics?

The core of the team is the same as the last years; apart from Raùl Albiol, the other leaders of Napoli are still here, players like Insigne, Mertens, Callejon, etc.

The goalkeeper is the Italian youngster Alex Meret, who has played the Uefa U21 European Championship for Italy; he is assisted by the former Arsenal player David Ospina and Orestis Karnezis.

Some of the new signings have been made in the back four; to help the right-backs Kevin Malcuit and Elseid Hysaj, Napoli has signed the former Empoli player Giovanni Di Lorenzo, coming back from a season with 5 goals scored. While the left flank has been confirmed with Ghoulam ready to start the season without any injuries, and Mario Rui has his back-up, the main change has been made in the centre-back department; Raùl Albiol has gone away, and Kostas Manolas has been signed to replace him, giving Napoli some new skills for which we have already done a tactical analysis.

In the midfield line, there aren’t so many hierarchies; Allan Marques Lodeiro, Fabian Rùiz and Piotr Zielinski compete for two shirts with the new sign Eljif Elmas. On the wings, Josè Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne are still here, ahead for a spot in the starting 11 in their positions. After them, there are some players who aren’t sure of staying in Napoli; Simone Verdi, Amin Younes, Adam Ounas.

The two places for strikers are occupied by the Belgian star Dries Mertens and the deadly finisher Arkadiusz Milik.

Napoli 2019/20: Season Preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Starting eleven at Napoli, now.

Napoli is trying to sign some other players, and Hirving Lozano is ready to be part of the team, becoming a good alternative for every attacking role. Even Mauro Icardi or Fernando Llorente are rumoured.

Conclusion

Napoli is ready for another season aiming to stay at least in the second place of the Italian Serie A, and this year they want to try to break Juventus’s domain. To do this they have signed some players in specific roles to improve Ancelotti’s style of play and beware from the return of Inter, who wants to be one of the greatest powers of the Serie A.

In this season preview we have seen that if players like Lozano and Manolas can fit Napoli’s tactics, and Insigne, Callejon, Mertens, and Milik continue to perform well even this year, the future is bright.


Artwork by @chapulana

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Francesco Donzella

24-years-old performance analyst. Former footballer. Italian, holds match analyst license from FIGC. Enjoys football, in particular, offensive midfielders and ball-oriented style of play.
Francesco Donzella