With Juventus notching up four straight wins and beginning to build up some real momentum, it was imperative for Napoli’s title chances that they walk out of Torino with a victory. Ancelotti’s side failed to do so, however, leaving Turin after mustering only a 0-0 draw, their first of the 2019/20 Serie A season.
This analysis will examine what tactics were used to stifle this Napoli attack and propose how the away side could’ve done more in this game. This tactical analysis will also provide an overview of the game to determine who ultimately deserved the result.
After experimenting with a variety of formations over the past couple of weeks, including a 4-4-2 and 3-4-3, Napoli returned to the formation that’s bought them the most success over the last couple of years, the 4-3-3.
Still serving a suspension from a previous red card, Kalidou Koulibaly remained absent for this game and was replaced by Sebastiano Luperto. Dries Mertens remains the starting striker in Naples ahead of the likes of Fernando Llorente and Arkadiusz Milik, especially after the Belgian’s hot start to the season which has seen him score four goals in his opening five games in Serie A.
Torino were missing a number of influential players including Simone Zaza, Vittorio Parigini and Alessandro Buongiorno due to respective injuries. In a surprising move, Cristian Ansaldi, a well-know full-back, lined up in a wide attacking position for the home side.
Torino’s man-marking scheme
Torino’s gameplan to disrupt Napoli’s possession play had a clear incentive to use their defensive midfielders, Tomás Rincon and Daniele Baselli, to aggressively man-mark Napoli’s ‘eights’ (Fabián Ruiz and Piotr Zieliński).
This made it hard for Napoli to build up through the centre, slowing their possession down drastically. Napoli were forced to play their possession down the flanks and across their backline for the most part as Ruiz and Zieliński struggled to manipulate and lose their markers.
Torino’s man-marking also extended to applying the same scheme on Allan at times which discouraged Napoli from using the Brazillian to split their centre-backs.
It left both Napoli’s centre-backs as well as the Brazillian frustrated at times for the lack of options ahead of them. There was plenty of times in the match where Ruiz and Zieliński were guilty of not doing enough to create a separation between their markers and themselves.
Napoli’s build-up restrained
With Allan unable to split the centre-backs, it meant Napoli’s full-backs weren’t able to progress up the pitch as often as they wanted to. This further stifled Napoli’s possession as it slowed their wide play down once the ball was played into the likes of Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne, as the full-backs were too deep to make regular overlaps. This didn’t afford the space for any of Napoli’s wide men to make an impact on the game, mustering only one dribble between the trio (one for Lozano; neither Insigne or Callejon, the substitute, managed a single dribble).
The fact that Allan was unable to regularly split the centre-backs was also doubly disappointing because this method can allow for an effective way of disturbing a strict man-marking scheme. If Allan was able to drop more regularly in between his centre-backs, then this would create the potential for one of the pair to drive freely into midfield.
With Allan dropping deep to create a temporary back three, this conditions Torino’s defence to adopt a 4-4-2 shape. Because of their strict man-marking roles, however, Torino’s holding midfielders could potentially become very disconnected from the front pair as their positioning was largely dictated by the movement of Ruiz and Zieliński. This would create large spaces that Napoli’s centre-backs could drive into if they were ever able to receive the ball in space.
Driving forward with the advantage of not having a specific player designated to mark you forced Torino’s midfield to improvise in the moment in order to stop the advancing centre-back. This would mean at least one of Ruiz, Zieliński or Mertens would now be free from their markers where hopefully Napoli could now take advantage.
When Napoli’s centre-backs didn’t properly split to take up wider positions (either when Allan did or didn’t drop) this allowed Torino’s front pair to more effectively cut off the centre of the pitch. This would also assist in slowing down Napoli’s possession as there were little options to pass forward or allow for either of the centre-backs to drive into midfield. This stale possession made Torino’s jobs easier off the ball as they faced little disruption to their defensive shape.
Torino’s conservative attack
Another contribution to the lack of goalscoring in this game was Torino’s conservative approach when they had the ball. The way this manifested itself was through the sheer lack of numbers Torino contributed to their attack when they threatened to break into the final third.
Torino kept their midfield players deep and very little support was provided for Andrea Beotti in the centre or for the players on the ball in the final third. Torino didn’t risk their defensive stability come under any potential turnover by pushing their players forward in an attempt to create overloads or occupy spaces behind Napoli’s midfield.
This obviously made Napoli’s job all that much easier and Belotti’s all that much more difficult. This was a gameplan that was consistent throughout the game for the Turin-based side.
By reducing the number of players going forward during attacks, Torino did all they could to keep the game in front of their midfield and while this helped them maintain a compact shape in all phases of the game, it gave them little chance of creating much offence outside of the counter-attack.
By maintaining a conservative attack, this limited the amount of opportunities Napoli could create through their counter-press. This is because Torino rarely allowed for Napoli’s midfield to get behind their own, mostly because they didn’t allow their own midfield to attempt to get behind Napoli’s. This limited both side’s effectiveness upon a turnover and helped to keep the scoring to a minimum.
Keeping their defensive shape compact at all times made it difficult for Napoli’s players to create quality goal-scoring chances as they were often forced to shoot through the walls of Torino’s defence.
Torino’s defensive solidity was demonstrated in their final numbers, sacrificing 61% of the possession to their opponents but also managing 17 blocks compared to Napoli’s six. It also limited Napoli’s ability to create passes inside of Torino’s penalty area, managing only 11 passes of their total 524 on the night.
Torino’s gameplan was entirely based on frustrating their title-chasing opposition and though it didn’t make for much of an entertaining affair, it produced the result it was designed to get.
Napoli will be disappointed with the final scoreline but they were given a lot of respect by their opponents and would’ve had to abandon their general principles to try and force a positive result. Bringing on Llorente in order to do so may have yielded a more positive performance from Napoli but even then, there’s no guarantee of forcing a result against a side that had little intention of playing football.
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