In this tactical analysis we have decided to go over the match between Roma and Napoli. In a clash that saw fifth versus sixth, Napoli came out victorious. In one of the closest Serie A seasons we’ve seen in recent years, with just 10 points separating second and seventh place, the competition for the Champions League qualification spots intensifies.
The match finished Roma 0 - 2 Napoli, with both goals coming from Dries Mertens. The xG of this match was low with it being Roma 0.79 - 0.75 Napol (infogol.net). What this tells us is that Napoli outperformed their expected goals significantly, leading us to believe that Napoli do not need several high quality goal scoring opportunities to win matches.
The case of Napoli outperforming their xG, on top of excellent performances in recent weeks against second place AC Milan and now sixth place Roma, shows that they will likely cement themselves in the top four of the Serie A with Juventus and AC Milan beginning to slip away. Napoli are in great form and are playing some exciting football too. This analysis will briefly show how Napoli beat Roma.
Roma deployed a 3-4-2-1 that would shift into a 5-4-1, with the wing-backs making up the back five, and Pedro and El Shaarawy moving into wide roles in the midfield four. Depending on the side of play, the wide player would lead the Roma press. Notable absences are Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jordan Veretout.
Napoli deployed a 4-2-3-1, with an importance placed on the full-backs to move into the midfield halfspaces. Depending on the side of play determined which full-back moved inside and forward, with Diego Demme often dropping deeper and filling in the space that the full-backs left behind. Insigne was tasked with staying high, wide and targeting the space left between Roma center-back Mancini and right wing-back Karsdorp.
As mentioned above, Demme would drop into the space left behind his team’s advanced full-back. This offers Napoli defensive cover most importantly, but this tactical motif has several uses. Demme fills in on the same side that the full-back attacks. Below we see that play is focussed on the right side of the pitch with Hysaj advanced and slightly central, so Demme carries the ball forward. El Shaarawy questions who to press because Hysaj and the oncoming Politano occupy space between the Roma midfield and defensive lines.
When Demme isn’t carrying the ball forward, he will help maintain possession on the side of the pitch his team’s full-back attacked from. Below we now see Demme on the left. By filling in on the left flank, Demme helps his team create a five versus five scenario. This draws the Roma players to one side, allowing for other Napoli players to find space left by Roma. Players like Hysaj below were often found in these positions during moments in which Demme filled in for his team’s full-back. This allows Napoli to switch the side of play easier and catch Roma off guard as they transition from a press to a mid/low-block.
Roma used 5-4-1 in defense and only pressed when Napoli moved play to the wide areas. Players like Politano and Insigne have shown this season that they’re happiest when they have chalk on their boots, so this type of press from Roma worked in Napoli’s favour. Below we see the Roma structure take shape while Politano holds possession. Draw your attention to Politano’s opposite flank. Three Napoli players advance on the left side as Politano triggers the Roma press on the right.
Below we see Napoli succeeding in baiting the Roma press. This press leaves space in between players and defensive lines. Fabián is on the ball and is able to play a pass to Insigne as he makes a run we have seen so often from him this season. The Roma players struggle to handle quick transitions in play. So much so, that midfielder Diawara needs to drop into the Roma defensive line to make up the numbers. Karsdorp can be seen running back to the space he should be covering.
This match was not a tactical masterclass by either side. Although, Napoli are showing promising signs that they should be a team worth considering in the race for top four in Serie A. Lorenzo Insigne and Matteo Politano are excellent wide players who have stolen headlines several times this season, however, what makes this Napoli team just a bit more curious is having players like Diego Demme and Elseid Hysaj. These are players with a high level of football intelligence. The list of players who can drift in and out of both full-back roles from midfield is short. The list of players who can drift from full-back into the half-spaces in their opponents third of the pitch comfortably is even shorter.
Roma were poor. In fairness, it’s possible that Jordan Veretout and Henrikh Mkhitaryan could have made a difference, especially going forward. When we compare Roma to the other teams in the top five of the Serie A, it becomes clear that they are not of the same or similar quality yet. Roma are not better than Napoli, Atalanta, Juventus, AC Milan or Inter, so their hopes for Champions League or even Europa League football next season are grim.Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @pythaginboots
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___