AS Roma and Napoli met in a top of the table clash in the Italian Serie A. Roma came into the game with 7 wins out of 7 while Napoli were impressive themselves, dropping points in just 1 game. Roma had conceded only 1 goal leading into the game while the away side conceded just 4. It was set to be an enthralling affair between the two exciting sides. Rudi Garcia and Rafa Benitez are both in their first years with their respective clubs, and both couldn’t have asked for a better start. But something had to give at the Stadio Olimpico, and as we saw, Roma are still with a 100% record and just the solitary goal conceded.
Benitez’ cautious approach
Rafael Benitez came into this game with the idea that a draw wouldn’t be all that bad a result. He approached the game cautiously and paid more attention to prevent Roma from scoring rather than getting his team on the score sheet. Napoli had previously taken the lead in all their 2013/14 Serie A games but didn’t look any closer in this one.
Inler and Behrami were deployed to assist the back four in a bid to prevent Roma’s extremely quick attacking play. Benitez identified the threat provided by Roma’s front three of Totti, Gervinho & Florenzi. For this he deployed the two previously mentioned midfielders in deeper roles to directly contain the threat.
Napoli even lacked a proper front man as Pandev played in more of a midfielders role, alongside Hamsik. While the emphasis on attack was from the wider areas with Insigne and Callejon, but then again those two were kept busy with the attacking threat from the full-backs, Dodo and Maicon.
All in all, Rudi Garcia pipped Benitez’ system. As much as the Spaniard tried to bulletproof his approach and install a safety net in his set-up, Roma found another to breach the protection. The Napoli midfielders dropped into the defense, the full-backs rarely thwarted forward, Callejon and Insigne had defensive duties out wide while Pandev had little impact in his midfield role. Hamsik too wasn’t able to contribute much towards attack.
Benitez was thus guilty of excessive caution and possibly giving too much liberty to Roma in attack.
Roma’s dynamic shapes
Roma have been a potent attacking force this season, but they’ve also been firm at the back, conceding just one coming into this clash. Of course, the key to this success has been the measure of balance that has been achieved, and the ability of the team to effectively utilise the skills of their players. During the game against Napoli, different formations were used during different phases of play to achieve this objective. When the ball was with them, and they were building up their attacking capability, Roma kept their two central defenders at the back, and had Danielle De Rossi stay with them for support, and as a passing option. One of the full backs was encouraged to push on, mostly Maicon, and the other, Dodo, hanging back a little. The other two midfielders, Pjanic, and Strootman got forward, but to varying degrees. The Bosnian Pjanic made his way forward far more often than Strootman. The job for the duo was to link the play.
Up front, it was Gervinho, Florenzi and Totti, who was later replaced by Borriello. These three generally interchanged their positions, but the roles were for Gervinho to dribble and run at defenders, Totti to serve as the playmaker and Florenzi was to stay in wider areas and stretch the play. In the second half, the midfielders pulled back quite a bit, and changed their mode of attack, with a fair few aerial balls hit toward the target that is Borriello. Leandro Castan alone attempted 15, and was successful with 10 long passes. The objective of course, was to preserve the lead, and draw Napoli onto them.
While defending, their tactics changed in each half. In the first, they slipped into a 4-4-2, with either Totti or his replacement Borriello tracking back. The legendary captain even injured himself while he was doing some defensive work in his own penalty area. Florenzi and The Gerv were left higher up the pitch because their pace and dribbling made them good options to work counter attacks. In the second half, while they were protecting the lead though, it morphed into a 4-1-4-1, with De Rossi dropping deeper between the lines to negate the growing influence that Hamsik was having.
Napoli altered their usual game, retracting in the second half
Rafa Benitez started the game with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, but the interpretation was quite different in either half. To begin with, it was quite defensive, retaining three at the back at all times. The central midfield pairing of Behrami and Inler too, had a very defensive brief. The idea was to defuse Roma’s attacking threat, especially in the early period of the game. So far this season, Napoli have played a brand of football, that is quite possession heavy, but this side of their game was not seen for the first half an hour at least. Napoli enjoyed only 49% of the ball in the first half, as opposed to 57% in the second half. However, the goal on the brink of half time changed the equation, and Napoli had to take the initiative in the second half.
The full backs started to push on a lot more, especially Mesto. Both him, and Maggio were constantly trying to create overlaps on their respective sides. The midfielders too were pushing forward a lot more, and the brief was to supplement the attacking quartet. They had to push forward not to make runs into the opposing box, but to stay just behind the attackers and keep up pressure by retaining possession, and doing so higher up the pitch.
The incredibly poor performance from Cannavaro
A big debate among Napoli circles is the inclusion/exclusion of Paolo Cannavaro in Benitez’ teams. The Italian was a regular in Mazzarri’s sides last season but has failed to stamp down a place under the Spaniard. Napoli fans are split on his participation, although that may have seen a big shift toward the ‘exclusion’ side after the game against Roma.
The central defender came on in first half-stoppage time, conceded a free-kick and got yellow carded for it within seconds, with Pjanic scoring a beautiful effort from the resulting set-piece.
His poor performance continued in the second, culminating in the 69th minute with a foul on Borrielo. A second yellow, and Pjanic once again scoring from the resulting spot-kick.
While Roma did deserve their win, it came as a result of sheer stupidity from one player. Benitez’ cautious approach was difficult for Roma to penetrate but Napoli were managing to contain it. They even won the possession battle 56% to 44%. Benitez and his players have every right to attach blame to Cannavaro for the 2-0 loss.
Strootman, Pjanic, De Rossi
Midfield battles often win (or lose) games and Roma-Napoli went head-to-head with 3 midfielders each. Two of Napoli’s, Behrami and Inler, set out to defend while Hamsik was meant to assist in attack. Roma though, deployed a different approach. All three of Roma’s midfielders were on the same wavelength and had an almost equal contribution to defense and attack. While De Rossi did drop deep to assure up the defense, Strootman and Pjanic were a constant threat in an attacking sense, creating opportunities and attempting long shots.
But it was there contribution in defense that really set them apart. The midfield trio attempted 16 tackles between them, in crucial areas of the pitch, putting an end to any attacking threat from the visitors. Callejon, Pandev and Insigne were adequately contained while Hamsik too was unable to form any sort of linkage.Published 19 Oct 2013, 03:27 IST