Napoli 0-0 Liverpool: the home side not brave enough when going forward

October 22, 2010

The starting line-ups

A fairly uneventful 0-0 at the Stadio San Paolo.

Napoli played broadly their usual system, although here it frequently looked like a 3-4-3 rather than a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-4-2-1, as has been more accurate in recent games. Michele Pazienza and Walter Gargano started in midfield, whilst Hugo Campagnaro was in on the right side of defence, with Salvatore Aronica on the other side.

Liverpool were without the likes of Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, so named a young, understrength side. Jay Spearing was the deepest midfielder in a double pivot with Christian Poulsen, whilst Jonjo Shelvey had more of a free role ahead. Ryan Babel and Milan Jovanovic swapped flanks.

Despite the young side and the hostile atmosphere, Liverpool started very well, keeping possession in the centre of the pitch with either of Spearing and Poulsen always free, and since it was generally Ezequiel Lavezzi or Marek Hamsik who eventually closed them down, this opened up space for the full-backs to move forward, and Liverpool kept possession well at the back.

Napoli started slowly but eventually got themselves into a decent passing rhythm, with a similar situation – one of their two holding players always had time on the ball, and if not then the 3 v 1 situation at the back, with David Ngog unable to occupy three men at once, meant that possession was easily retained here.

Napoli defend with too many

Of course, this was not particularly helpful in terms of Napoli attacking, and here we had the standard problems with a three-man defence up against a one-man attack – it’s defensively secure, but it means that the side isn’t attacking with enough players. Basic maths it may be, but the situation was apparent whenever Napoli looked to build an attack – it was rare to see anything other than 5 v 8, with the wing-backs, Andrea Dossena and Christian Maggio, only joining the moves at a late stage. Those two were the biggest dangers, but Ryan Babel and Milan Jovanovic coped reasonably well – the latter is better defensively, but Babel’s pace helped him regain a decent position quickly when he switched off.

Still, considering that Napoli have got around this problem very well in recent games (see the opening day draw at Fiorentina, where Campagnaro stepped forward as an additional midfielder and allowed Maggio to move into a more orthodox right midfield position, in turn meaning Hamsik could drift in as a central playmaker) they did little to help themselves. Campagnaro sometimes joined the attack, but it was too sporadic to put any constant pressure on the Liverpool defence. His moves forward started around the 30 min mark, and Liverpool defended better against this when Jovanovic and Babel switched sides. Still, Liverpool were reasonably comfortable – with 2 v 1 at the back and two holding players solidly in front, Napoli didn’t create a real chance until the stroke of half-time, when Paul Konchesky cleared off the line from Hamsik.

Liverpool play on break

Liverpool, as expected, largely sat back and looked to play on the counter-attack, using the pace of Ngog and Babel. They defended very well, setting out in two deep banks of four, Hodgson’s trademark, and whilst these tactics are disliked by Liverpool supporters for Premier League games the side should win, for European away legs they are perfect, as Hodgson showed with Fulham last year. The difference in Liverpool’s Premier League record (P8 W1 D3 L4) and European record (P7 W5 D2) under Hodgson is surely no coincidence, even when taking into account the quality of opposition.

Liverpool rarely pushed forward in the second half but they did have chances – as often happens against a three-man defence, the best opportunities were when play was worked from one side to another on the counter-attack, and it was Babel who had the best sights of goal. In the first half he miscontrolled a crossfield pass when through on goal and ended up putting the ball out for a throw, whilst midway through the second half he shot straight at Morgan de Sanctis after good work from Jovanovic, who had taken advantage of one of many mistakes from Aronica.

No significant changes

The disappointing aspect of the game from those wanting goals was the fact that Walter Mazzari waited until 75 minutes to bring on a substitute. His side were not brave enough on the pitch, and he was not willing to inject some attacking intent with a positive substitution. Perhaps he felt 0-0 was a good result, but Napoli should have asked a lot more questions of the Liverpool backline.

Hodgson was unquestionably pleased with a 0-0, only making like-for-like changes. Joe Cole replaced Babel and kept the ball well. Overall, Liverpool had five shots on target compared to Napoli’s three – admittedly a couple were half-hearted attempts hardly likely to cause de Sanctis major difficulties, but that, along with the scoreline, shows that Hodgson’s tactics worked well.


A low-key game between two sides lacking attacking intent. The major tactical feature was Napoli’s problems with 3 v 1 at the back – it simply meant they had one less player when they were attacking, and was always likely to lead to a low-scoring game unless either Campagnaro or Aronica pushed forward, which happened rarely.

Both sides played very deep – for Liverpool that was expected, but again Napoli could have been braver and pushed 15-20 yards higher up the pitch. Maybe the pace of Babel and Ngog was worrying Mazzari in this respect, but the 0-0 was predictable at an early stage.

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