Genoa 0-1 Napoli: Hamsik header decides match

December 12, 2010

The starting line-ups

An intriguing game rather than an exciting one, as Napoli go up to second for the time being.

Davide Ballardini seems to have settled on a four-man defence after preferring three at the back last seasonand in the opening games of this campaign. He shuffled his side with the return of Omar Milanetto. Marco Rossi played on the right, with Rafinha moving to right-back in place of Giandomenico Mesto.

Walter Mazzarri made a single change from the side which beat Palermo. Ezequiel Lavezzi was injured, so Juan Zuniga started in a rightish attacking midfield position, with Edinson Cavani moved into a more permanent central position.

The game was strange – Genoa dominated possession and had more shots on goal, and yet Napoli were the better side. They were on top until Hamsik’s 25th minute winner, and then they sat back and appeared reasonably comfortable.

The most interesting statistic from the match is that Genoa had 15 shots (compared to Napoli’s four) but only got one on target (compared to Napoli’s two). This helps explain quite why there was a feeling that Genoa wouldn’t get back into the game despite dominating – they simply weren’t testing Morgan de Sanctis enough.

3-4-2-1 v 4-3-1-2

This is a very unusual match-up in systems, and it produced a strange, almost unnatural feel to the game.

The primary reason was because Genoa didn’t have anyone naturally picking up Napoli’s wing-backs. First, Napoli’s system was more structured at the top end of the pitch than usual. Lavezzi moves from flank to flank and causes the opposition defence problems with his movement, but the situation here was more simple. Hamsik was left, Zuniga was right, Cavani was the striker.

Therefore, it was fairly obvious how the Genoa defence would deal with them. Rafinha picked up Hamsik and Domenico Criscito picked up Zuniga, with a spare man at the back against Cavani. The full-backs were forced to play narrower than they may have wanted because Hamsik and Zuniga weren’t playing as wingers – more as part-winger part-playmaker, similar to how Chelsea lined up towards the end of last season, for example. Zuniga was hopelessly out of position, however, far too high up the pitch.

The problem came when it came to tracking the wing-backs, because it meant Rossi and Miguel Veloso were dragged out of position in two ways – first wider than they would have liked, and second deeper than they would have liked. Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena hugged the flanks, stretching the Genoa midfield to the point where it sometimes looked like they had a back six with Milanetto sitting ahead. In open play they defended reasonably well (as any back six would) but they struggled with transitions from defence to attack, and conceded a poor goal from a set play.

Late pressure

Genoa made two substitutions at half-time but broadly kept the same shape. They were better – part of the difference was that they removed Veloso, who was uncomfortable venturing out to the flank, and brought on Mesto as a right-back. This meant Rafinha moved forward, Rossi switched to the left, and Genoa had two carrileros who naturally move wide.

Still, Napoli held out very well, with the key being the fact they retained a spare man at the back. This seems to be an important policy for Mazzarri, who changes his system slightly from week to week to deal with the opposition well. Here, for example, with Houssine Kharja playing high up the pitch, some sides may have left 3 v 3 at the back. Napoli, however, kept Michele Pazienza goalside of Kharja throughout (expect when Napoli had a goal kick) and therefore one of the centre-backs was always ‘free’ to sweep up.

It must also be said, however, that Genoa’s delivery into the box was very poor. They had no natural width high up the pitch and therefore passes were too straight and crosses were played in from deep positions, hung up towards Luca Toni who didn’t get the better of the centre-backs.


The game’s key man was Walter Gargano, an extremely intelligent, tactically excellent footballer. Mazzarri used him higher up than usual – with Pazienza taking care of Kharja, Gargano was given a more advanced role where he closed down Milanetto and Genoa’s two carrileros when they got the ball, whilst also passing calmly and methodically and helping Napoli hold onto the ball and move up the pitch.

He is a good example of a player who can play one position – but many roles. Nominally a holding midfielder, he’s also comfortable with an energetic box-to-box brief, and can play high up the pitch as something approaching a creator – here, and in the World Cup semi-final against Holland. He also provided the assist for Hamsik’s goal.


Napoli continue to impress. Mazzarri is playing it perfectly – he has a preferred formation he plays every week which gives the side consistency and familiarity in their shape, but he also changes it slightly according to what formation the opponent is using – small changes like a midfielder higher up, a wing-back deeper, the two players behind the forward wider – so that Napoli aren’t exposed in an obvious fashion.

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