In a highly anticipated Serie A clash it was Lazio who were going to take on Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico. Going into the game Lazio were having one of their best seasons in recent memory competing at the top of the table with Italian giants Juventus, however, on the other hand, Napoli were somewhat struggling this season and with the addition of the controversy surrounding the squad off the pitch they had something to prove when going into this game in order to restore their image in Italian Football. This tactical analysis will go into detail about the tactics of both sides and how these tactics played out during the game.
With Gennaro Gattuso taking the reigns of Napoli for just over a month and Filippo Inzaghi’s Lazio being in excellent form, this matchup was sure to be one full of tactical tinkering and technical class.
Going into this match Lazio lined up in their usual 3-5-2 formation with Lucas Leiva acting as the anchorman while the midfield duo of Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinković-Savić was given a licence to push forward when the counter was on.
On the other hand, Napoli lined up in a more orthodox and attacking 4-3-3, with José Callejón and Lorenzo Insigne being the main attacking outlets which promised to threaten the Lazio back-line due to their pace and special awareness when in possession of the ball. Gattuso also implemented Fabián Ruiz as a deep lying playmaker meaning he was predominantly used to progress the ball further up-field, while also providing support for defenders during defensive periods. This tactical analysis will breakdown the approach used by both sides and how Lazio were able to come away with the victory.
Throughout the game, Lazio implemented a high and aggressive press against the Napoli side in the hope of playing through transitional plays and catching Napoli players out of position upon the turnover of possession.
For example, in the image below as soon as Napoli gain possession and go on the attack, the Lazio players are quick to box the player in and close down any available space, forcing the player in possession (Insigne) to make a mistake, allowing them to play on those “transitional breaks”. Furthermore, given the positioning of the other Lazio players with seven of their players in Napoli’s box once the ball is turned over via the press, their attacking threat will be very potent helping to shed a light into their impressive 1.97 xG compared to Napoli’s 0.99 xG.
Nevertheless, upon regaining possession Lazio have a 7 v 7 situation, with passing options left, right and centre causing the Napoli back-line to be stretched thus creating space for Lazio’s forwards.
In the example below the structure of the play is somewhat like a rondo with seven attackers and two defenders in the middle (the Napoli players), perhaps indicating the importance of utilising rondo methods within training and how these rondo activities are prevalent within competitive games, and in the case give the attacking team a scoring opportunity. Specifically, in this example an overload can be created, causing Napoli to over commit in one area leaving space in another area.
Lazio’s high press is further exemplified in the below image with Felipe Caicedo pressing Ruiz straight from a goal kick forcing possession to be lost and another scoring opportunity to be created. This also showcases just how effective Lazio were in their recoveries with an average of 0.35 recoveries per minute compared to Napoli’s 0.24 recoveries per minute, illuminating the gap in class between the two sides, when out of possession.
In addition to this, we can also see that Lazio’s ability to counter is just as good as their pressing abilities. However, it is important to note that it is because of their excellent pressing that the counter-attacks are able to present themselves. Bearing that in mind once possession is regained Lazio look to spring forward in the attack with the majority of players rushing forward on the break looking to attack the open spaces left by Napoli and conjure up a scoring opportunity.
When under immense pressure during this game the Lazio players tended to drop off and invite pressure from Napoli. For example, below we can see seven Lazio players tucked in together with a compact shape within their own quarter of the pitch. However, by doing this they free up space for Ruiz to progress the ball, while also leaving attacking space on the left-hand side of the pitch. But due to the compactness of Lazio players, any cross is likely to be cleared away to safety.
In this defensive formation, we should pay special attention to the positioning of the three midfielders, who are floating around zone 14 (danger area) where the majority of goals in football are scored from, thus from nullifying this space the chances of Napoli scoring have gone down considerably.
During defence Napoli tended to use a low block with pressing only inside their own half, in this image Napoli are slow to get into their full defensive block upon losing possession causing space to be present on the right side of the pitch and making them vulnerable. However, because Lazio are slow to progress the ball Napoli are able to get back in shape with all 11 players behind the ball.
From the image below Arkadiusz Milik is acting as the lone presser, ensuring that the Lazio players don’t have too much time on the ball to decipher a penetrating pass. Just behind Milik Napoli have adopted a five-man block in midfield acting as a shield for the defensive line by blocking progressive passes, while also making it harder for Lazio’s front line to play in between the lines. Interestingly, because the space between Napoli’s defence and midfield is so small, the space that Lazio forwards have to work with is minimal, leaving them with less of an area and time to create an effective attacking outlet.
On the other spectrum, when Napoli go on the attack, they look to exploit Lazio through quick combination play combined with runs in behind the defence. Below we can see one example of this in play, for instance, Callejón is making the run in behind the defence, while Allan is providing a cut back option in which a different attacking option can be created. Both of these options provide good viable attacking outlets with several options for the advancement of the ball.
However, in this occasion the ball is lost from a misplaced pass and Lazio are able to break away on the counter with a 3v3.
When Lazio were looking for a creative outlet to find gaps between Napoli’s block, Luis Alberto would often drop into the back-line to provide this support, enabling Lazio to play in between the lines. For instance, below we can see Leiva positioned in between the two defensive lines of Napoli, meaning if a ball was played into him the front three players would be bypassed and would be removed from that specific phase of play.
Also considering that Luis Alberto has the most passing combinations in the Lazio side further points towards his role of helping to progress the attack for his side. Specifically, he passed to Ciro immobile a total of 12 times with the second closest being five passes, illuminating the attacking threat that Alberto gives to his team.
Moreover, Lazio’s goal in this game perfectly sums up the way this game went, with their energetic pressing forcing Napoli to make mistakes. This combined with their slow adjustments to correct errors allowed Inzaghi’s men to take advantage and score the only goal of the game.
In the case of the goal, Napoli were playing the ball around their defence looking to make a pass that would break the pressing line of the Lazio players. But as a consequence of being sluggish and slow to realise the danger (as they often did in this game) when David Ospina was in possession and unable to find an easy pass he kept the ball in his possession, oblivious to the onrushing Immobile. And by the time it was too late Ospina was corned and was forced to use his body to defend the ball, despite his attempts it was ineffective and Immobile was able to dispossess the ball from the Keeper and slot the ball into the empty net.
To conclude, even though Napoli were in control of the majority of the game with 60% of possession they were unable to break down the solid defence of the Lazio side and as a result of a couple of mistakes while in possession, Lazio were able to capitalise and score the only goal of the game. Thus, it was a mixture of Lazio’s press and tactical approach combined with a few fortunate mistakes from their opponents which allowed them to come away with the win and continue their excellent form in Seria A.