From Sarri to Ancelotti: Consistencies and changes at Napoli
“Calcio Napoli are happy to announce the definition of an agreement with Coach Carlo Ancelotti to become lead the first team for the next three seasons and therefore starting from 2018-19.”
With this statement, on 23 May 2018, Napoli announced that Carlo Ancelotti will be the first team coach for the next three seasons replacing Maurizio Sarri. That day resembled a turning point in the history of the Partenopei. President Aurelio De Laurentiis welcomed Ancelotti by saying; “With Ancelotti, I want to create a new era and keep him for 10 years”.
In July 2018, Maurizio Sarri left for Chelsea, only to be followed by Jorginho. Pepe Reina also exited the club as he joined AC Milan on a free transfer. Carlo Ancelotti arrived then in South Italy with a new tactical philosophy. Given the, at least, 2 major changes in Napoli's personnel, many would agree with De Laurentiis' claim that a new era is about to begin at San Paolo. Yet, after the first 2 matchdays, Ancelotti's Napoli has proved that Sarri's influence is as vivid as ever.
After the Serie A 2018-2019 fixtures draw, Napoli knew they could not feel as excited as they would probably want. The post-Sarri era was about to commence with 2 difficult encounters. An away match against Lazio and a home one against AC Milan. Yet, not only did the Partenopei succeeded to collect the total of 6 points but they did so with epic comebacks, a characteristic of Sarri's philosophy. In fact, during Sarri's last season, Napoli had managed to complete 9 comebacks and one draw, gathering a total of 28 points from situations of disadvantage. Gazzetta Dello Sport claimed that comebacks are on the DNA of Napoli and this could not be truer.
It can not be argued that Ancelloti's influence on Napoli's game is yet to be seen. The games against Lazio and Milan showed that the newly appointed coach is trying to shift the team's tactics. The suffocating high pressing of Sarri's philosophy was transformed to a milder one. In fact, both in Rome and in San Paolo the Partenopei gave their opponents enough space to develop attacks from the back. They also seem to have lost the intensity that used to characterize them under Sarri's guidance.
If Sarri's attacking and defending techniques resolved around Jorginho, Ancelotti's rely on Piotr Zielinski and of course, Allan. The role and the duties of the Polish midfielder were upgraded. In fact, the 24 years old has been crucial for Napoli in the first two matchdays. He truly enjoys the trust of Ancelotti while, in the Sarri era, he used to be the ''twelfth man'', mainly substituting Hamsik. His brace against Milan yesterday was just the tip of the mountain. During his first 2 matches, Zielinski managed to reach a 93% pass success percentage having conceded only 0,5 dribbles while not failing even one. Indeed, former Juventus Mauro Camoranesi compared Zielinski to Pavel Nedved.
Squad rotations and substitutions
Another characteristic of Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli is the rotations. Indeed, unlike Sarri, the former Milan and Chelsea manager is known for experimenting on his squad. Lorenzo Insigne started on the left flank and was put in a more central position when Dries Mertens entered the pitch. After the 60th minute, Napoli was playing with a four-man attack and Milik was placed lower in the scheme to give enough space to his co-attackers.
The effect of the substitutions is another element of Ancelotti's philosophy that contradicts the one of the Sarri. In fact, president De Laurentiis was continuously criticizing Sarri for using only 11-13 players. This seems to have changed under the new coach. Ancelotti believes in the freshness that the substitutions bring in the game. Against Milan, the counter-attack of Napoli started once Mertens entered the game and it was fully completed when Diawara came in. The Belgian was used in a 4-person attack for Napoli along with Milik, Insigne, and Callejon while Diawara dominated the midfield winning 100% of duels. In addition, he was the one that set up Mertens' goal with an exceptional pass.
The two substitutes were indeed the cornerstones of Napoli's ultimate counter-attack that led to an epic come-back from a two-goal disadvantage. Particularly, according to the official Napoli-AC Milan match report, Napoli dominated the possession of the ball after the 60th minute. Up to the end of the match, the Partenopei managed to maintain the ball for a total of 10 minutes and 37 seconds while the Milanese were limited to a 6 minutes ball possession.
At his presentation as Napoli's coach, Ancelotti argued that he is not here to distort things but rather to improve them. This seems to be the case even though it is quite early to judge. Regardless of having been deprived of the two cornerstones of Sarri's Napoli, Jorginho, and Reina, Carlo Ancelotti does not seem to be affected. While Sarri is known for focusing on style and tactics rather than substance, Ancelotti's philosophy is entirely different. His 20 titles accomplished as a manager is a proof of this. Napoli's fans know that ''Carletto'' has the know-how of titles and they hope he can guide them to their first Scudetto after Maradona's in 1990.