Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli is one of the biggest teams in Serie A, and the club have been fighting for first place in the last ten years in the top flight. This year Napoli started well, but in the last matchday they lost at home against Cagliari in an incredible match, without scoring any goals. Brescia had lost to Juventus at home after a great match played on equal terms with one of the greatest teams in Europe, and they came to San Paolo searching for points and a good performance to continue the good trend.

In this tactical analysis, we will explain how Napoli’s tactics overcame Brescia’s style of play, and how some of Ancelotti’s choices worked in this match.

Serie A 2019/20: Napoli vs Brescia - tactical analysis tactics

Carlo Ancelotti didn’t change much in his tactics: he started this match without Kalidou Koulibaly, who was sent off in the last matchday, and without the pair of Lorenzo Insigne and Hirving Lozano, who were instead replaced by Piotr Zielinski and Fernando Llorente, the latter pairing up with Dries Mertens as a striker.

Brescia started with the same 4-3-1-2, playing with Donnarumma and former Liverpool player Balotelli as strikers, with the youngster Sandro Tonali as a holding midfielder. Martella is returned from an injury substituting Mateju.

Napoli’s attacking phase

Napoli started attacking as they did in the last years- they start with a fake 4-4-2; when they build-up they will do some rotations, with Ghoulam high on the pitch, pushing inside the left-winger Zielinski, while Di Lorenzo narrows himself near the centre-backs and Mertens lowers himself on the same line of Zielinski, Ghoulam and Callejon in a sort of 3-2-4-1. The three in the back and the two midfielders are deputies for the build-up phase, while the four attackers and the striker have to grant width, depth, and presence in the half-spaces.

Serie A 2019/20: Napoli vs Brescia - tactical analysis tactics
The 3-2-4-1 during the build-up phase; Ghoulam and Callejon are wide on the flanks, while Mertens and Zielinski are occupying the half-spaces, and Llorente is pushing down the opponent’s defence

This is one of Ancelotti’s tactics, aiming to confuse the opponent’s pressure and opening spaces inside their lines to exploit with masters of this skill: Dries Mertens and former Real Madrid player Callejon.

When Napoli arrive in the last part of the field, they try to overload one flank maintaining the rhythm with fast combinations to attract the opponent’s defence, uncovering the weak side to some fast shifts of play made by the midfielders (they can always face the opponent’s goal and see the whole field). While the left was the side chosen to do some overloads with technical players like Zielinski, Fabian Ruiz, Ghoulam etc, the right was the perfect place for a “raumdeuter” like Josè Maria Callejon, a real master in attacking spaces.

Serie A 2019/20: Napoli vs Brescia - tactical analysis tactics
Overload on the left flank: positional superiority high on the field, and Callejon wide on the weak side, ready to be served to attack the goal

This type of overload wasn’t stopped by Brescia’s tactics and it led to the first goal from Napoli. After a first chance with a change of play on Callejon and Mertens and a cross inside, Fabian Ruiz recovers the ball and finds Callejon another time behind the last opponent. For Callejon, it was really simple to serve Mertens and score the goal.

Serie A 2019/20: Napoli vs Brescia - tactical analysis tactics
Fabian finds Callejon free from opponents, even because Mertens is pinning Brescia’s left-back inside the field, leaving space for his teammate. Callejon to Mertens and 1-0 for Napoli

Brescia tries to force Napoli’s defence

Brescia had started their build-up phase with a 4+1 build-up, but because it’s difficult for them to find Tonali free without man-marking, they had to have one of the other midfielders lower himself to be found at Tonali’s side many times, making ball progression through a 4+2 build-up.

Serie A 2019/20: Napoli vs Brescia - tactical analysis tactics
From 4+1 to 4+2 build-up phase, Dessena lowers himself at Tonali’s side to help him progress the ball and giving to the defence another way to escape Napoli’s pressing

Using the 4+2 build-up, Dessena and Tonali can use themselves as a wall to make the ball progress and escape Napoli’s pressing with a through pass to Spalek, who was often free behind Napoli’s midfield.

Serie A 2019/20: Napoli vs Brescia - tactical analysis tactics
The ball was given from the defence to Dessena, who uses himself as a wall giving the ball to Tonali who can face the opponent’s goal and serve Spalek between the lines. This breaks Napoli’s pressing and makes Brescia proceed in the attack phase

Napoli is defending as always with a compact 4-4-2 shape, so Brescia had tried to exploit some spaces between the rigid lines of the opponent shape, moving their players in the half-spaces, and away from the opponents.

Serie A 2019/20: Napoli vs Brescia - tactical analysis tactics
Napoli’s compact shape in a 4-4-2 against Brescia’s fluid style of play even in the first minute

Brescia had tried to attack the Napoli lines changing this shape when in possession of the ball from a 4-3-1-2 to a 3-1-4-2. As we can see above, making an analysis of the fluid attacking phase from Brescia, we can see that when one of the full-backs is high up on the pitch, the other one narrows himself to compose a back three with the centre-backs, helped by Tonali’s guard before them. The opposite width is granted by the midfielder (the right one if the left-back is high on the pitch or vice versa), while the other one takes one of the half-space, with Spalek (the “trequartista”) on the other one before the two strikers, Balotelli and Donnarumma.

The preferred way to attack Napoli’s defence was with the full-backs that can cross the ball inside the area for the two strikers and some midfielders, but Napoli was strong to contain this type of threat.

Conclusion

Napoli had scored for the first time with Mertens and then had some chances to close the game without scoring anymore. The 2-0 was made by Manolas on a set-piece, and even Brescia’s goal was done on a set-piece situation because Napoli’s defending during open play situations was good even without Koulibaly and Manolas (taken off in the last 30 minutes).

Napoli got some answers to their questions, and they can use Dries Mertens’s magic moments to continue scoring goals, finding some new situations even without some key players like Milik or Insigne, while Brescia came out from San Paolo without any points but with some good feedback. They can avoid relegation if they continue in this way.



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