In this tactical analysis we will be analyzing the Napoli vs Inter match in Serie A this week. This was a must win game for Napoli as competition for the remaining Champions League qualification spaces intensifies as each week goes on.
Inter are all but crowned as champions in Serie A, so there was less pressure on them to win this game. The xG of this match favors Inter nonetheless, with it being Napoli 1 (0.69) - 1 (1.06). This shows us that despite creating few high quality chances, both teams were able to be clinical when it counted. However, Darmian will be kicking himself for missing an excellent chance to put Inter in the lead in the first half.
Napoli deployed a rigid 4-2-3-1 system. Demme and Insigne however did roam from their positions often. Demme dropped between the center-backs during the build-up phase while Insigne could be found where Napoli had possession. Notable absences were goalkeeper Ospina and fullback Ghoulam missed out through injury, while Lozano was suspended.
Inter deployed their tried 5-3-2 system. Throughout the season Inter would push both wingbacks forward to join the forward line in attack, while the wide center-backs took up fullback positions and Brozovic dropped into the defensive line. However, in this game, Inter asked Darmian to sit inside like an inverted winger when joining the attack. This led to Inter regularly exploiting Lorenzo, however, Inter did not do enough with the chances they created.
Inter used two main attacking tactics. The first one can be seen below. Martinez drops from the forward line to help move the ball from the middle third to the final third. He would combine with the ball-sided wide midfielder and Brozovic for quick passes to get around the pressing Napoli players. Bastoni, or the ball-sided wide defender, would take up an advanced position while Darmian joined the forward line.
The second attacking tactic had Bastoni take up an advanced position, similar to that of a fullback, to add width to the forward line. The starting wingback, Darmian, tucked inside and acted as a third forward. This created a two-versus-one situation against Lorenzo, while Lukaku and Martinez forced the Napoli center-backs to man-mark them. Perisic played in the role Darmian did this week often but was rested, so Conte had trusted Darmian in this role. He missed a great chance in the first half that would have put Inter in the lead.
Mentioned above was how involved Inter’s wingbacks are. By taking up such advanced positions you can attack greatly in numbers but become vulnerable to counter-attacks. Below we see Inter playing out through the back. Hakimi can be seen moving forward, while his opposite wingback, Darmian isn’t pictured. Inter have their wide center-backs take up fullback roles, while the starting wingbacks take space in the opponents half. Napoli press with numbers and clog the middle of the pitch, forcing play to the wide areas. Once play moved to the wide areas, Inter’s wide center-backs were put under considerable pressure and often struggled to beat the Napoli press. The starting wingbacks were often too far to help Inter get out of their own half.
Below is how Napoli attacked Inter. When Napoli won possession, they would quickly move the ball to Politano or Insigne who ran into the space behind the advanced wide center-backs. Bastoni and Skriniar have rarely been exposed this season, however Napoli showed us how to attack Inter: attack the space left behind. Handanovic may have scored an own goal, but it was a cross from one of these weak areas that forced the error.
Inter nullified Napoli’s attacking fullbacks by having their wingbacks Darmian and Hakimi press the fullbacks once they entered Inter’s half. Once Lorenzo or Rui entered Inter’s half, the wing-backs would press them while the wide defenders, Bastoni and Skriniar, took up fullback roles and filled the space in behind the wing-backs.
As Inter press Napoli, Brozovic would move into the defensive line to cover for the shifting wide center-back, while Martinez moved into the midfield line to cover for the shifting wide central midfielder joining the press. Inter were determined to maintain their defensive structure during each pressing action. Stopping service into the middle is crucial, or else Napoli could exploit the space in behind the wide areas easily, as mentioned previously.
Napoli can leave this match somewhat happy. They didn’t lose to the inevitable Serie A champions, played exciting counter-attacking football, while also keeping their hopes for top four and Champions League qualification alive. Conceding an equalizer from a superb Eriksen strike is not something that can be blamed on any one player, or several players either.
Inter are still comfortably first and are on course to win the Scudetto this season. However, their 11 game win streak in Serie A has come to an end. This game has taught us that Conte’s system does have its flaws, especially when even just one player who does not fit perfectly in the system, is not an absolute perfect fit. If Inter want to challenge for the Serie A title again next season and put up a more respectable showing in Europe next season, they will need to invest heavily in the summer on quality squad players.
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___