Napoli 1-2 Milan: Oddo off the bench to provide overlaps for both Milan goals
A wet and windy night in Naples produced an entertaining game, and a victory for Milan over ten man Napoli.
The home side set out in their usual 3-4-3 system, keeping the same attack and midfield as against Liverpool, only changing the defence where Paolo Cannavaro was suspended, so Gianluca Grava came in and the defence was shuffled.
Milan chose a 4-3-3 or possibly a 4-3-1-2 – the forward trio seemed to be given a license to play as they liked, with Robinho moving between a left-sided position and a trequartista role. There were few surprises in the rest of the side – Sokratis Papastathopoulos partnered Alessandro Nesta at the back.
The awful conditions made a big impact on the game – long passes were frequently misdirected, both because of the wind taking the ball off-course, and pitch making it skim along the surface quickly.
Napoli defensive shape?
The main question was how Napoli would cope with Milan’s attack, as a 3 v 3 situation at the back can often lead to disastrous results on the counter-attack. This was not too much of a problem for two reasons – chiefly because Napoli were often defending with a five-man defence rather than a three (especially because the lack of pace in Milan moves allowed Andrea Dossena and Christian Maggio (and his replacement, Hassan Yebda) to get level with the defence) but also because Milan’s attack didn’t offer enough width to try and stretch the three, with all three forwards spending most of their time in the centre.
Napoli’s front three were fluid, switching positions at will, and narrowing when the wing-backs got forward to provide crosses. Playing the ball in from wide areas is a very good way to get at this Milan side, as Cesena showed, and Napoli threatened a few times in the first half from dangerous crosses – but Christian Abbiati was having a fine game.
Early substitutions key
The first key moment was a nasty clash of heads between Luca Antonini and Christian Maggio after ten minutes. The Milan left-back Antonini was replaced immediately by Massimo Oddo, a right-back, meaning Daniele Bonera went across to the left. Maggio lasted ten minutes before feeling too uncomfortable to continue, and it was while he was off the pitch (with no substitute yet on in his place) that Milan took the lead. Oddo scampered down the right and Robinho used him to play a one-two, before the Brazilian sidefooted the ball into the far corner.
Maggio was replaced by Yebda, but Napoli were forced to get used to playing with ten men – Michele Pazienza was dismissed for two needless handballs in the opposition half just before half-time, and Milan went into the break with a one goal and one man advantage.
It’s never a good time to have a man sent off, but Walter Mazzari was fortunate that the dismissal came in the 45th minute, because he had half-time with his team to reshape, and make sure each player understood his new role.
His solution was to ask Yebda to come inside into a rightish central midfield position, and he and Napoli’s right-sided player, usually Marek Hamsik, covered the right side between them. This worked rather well, and for much of the second half, Napoli pushed Milan back into their own third. It was difficult to believe that Napoli had one fewer player on the pitch – Milan were not stretching the play enough to make the active playing area bigger, and Napoli’s superior energy was clear.
The one player who did match the work rate of the home side was Oddo, who again got forward to deliver a ball into the box, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic powerfully headed home, seemingly making the game safe.
This forced Napoli to push forward even more, sometimes leaving just two defenders at the back and making them vulnerable to Milan counter-attacks. They really should have been punished on the break, but the lack of understanding and the pure selfishness of Milan’s attackers constantly let them off the hook.
Max Allegri removed Ibrahimovic after his goal, bringing on Clarence Seedorf to try and keep possession, but the Dutchman was too keen to look for the killer pass, whilst Andrea Pirlo’s distribution was alarmingly wayward.
All this combined to give Napoli plenty of chances to score a goal, and they eventually managed it thanks to Ezequiel Lavezzi’s incredible scooped shot over Abbiati. He had been giving Papastathopoulos constant problems in the inside-right position with his sheer pace, and Napoli’s pressure fully merited the goal – but Milan held on for the final ten minutes.
The early clash of heads turned out to be of great help to Milan – not only did it mean Oddo came on to provide both assists, the aftermath also meant they had an extra player on the pitch for the first goal.
Napoli adjusted far better to the red card than Milan – the home side were weakened on their right side (with Yebda moving inside) but Milan’s lack of an attacking left-back (with Bonera moved out there) meant they were unable to take advantage of Napoli’s weakness there.
Oddo’s return to fitness and form could prove to be a very big factor in Milan’s season. For a side so clearly lacking in work rate upfront – and mobility in midfield and defence – it was good to see that Oddo still has the legs to motor up and down the flank for 90 minutes. As well as pure energy, he also had composure in the final third and was the game’s key player – despite starting on the bench.