Napoli 3-0 Juventus: three headers from Cavani – or was it?

January 11, 2011

The starting line-ups

Edinson Cavani enjoyed the best night of his career as Napoli demolished Juventus.

Walter Mazzarri played his most common line-up this season – 3-4-2-1, with Gianluca Grava ahead of Salvatore Aronica the only talking point.

Gigi Delneri stuck to his favourite 4-4-2 shape, with Luca Toni making his debut alongside Amauri. There were six changes in all, with Milos Krasic coming back into the side on the right.

There can be a danger of paying too much attention to formations. ‘Formations’ is not the same as ‘tactics’ – there are various other factors to consider when assessing a side’s strategy.

This, however, was a good example of one formation getting the better of another in fairly simple terms. The base for Mazzarri’s preferred formation is a 3-4-2-1, but because of the unusual nature of the shape, he’s often forced to alter the system slightly – something he’s done very well so far this season.

Against a simple 4-4-2, though, the 3-4-2-1 works beautifully, and therefore Napoli were able to play their natural game, thoroughly outplaying Juventus as a result.


The three-man defence is unquestionably at its best when it faces a two-man strikeforce. The lack of sides playing two out-and-out strikers was partly a reason for the lack of three-man defences over the past five years or so, and it’s very rare to see a side playing with two prima puntr as Delneri did here. Three-man defences are generally vulnerable to movement and players drifting out wide, but (with Fabio Quagliarella injured and out for the rest of the season), Mazzarri will have been delighted to see Amauri and Toni wheeled out to provide an aerial threat, as Napoli had a spare man at the back.


The Napoli wing-backs did their usual job – motoring forward to join the attack, but tracking Juventus’ wingers in the defensive phase of play. Krasic’s reluctance to put in a good defensive shift meant Andrea Dossena was constantly an outlet on the left.


The three Napoli forwards were as fluid as ever, with Lavezzi moving between the left flank and a centre-forward role, pinning Zdenek Grygera back. Marek Hamsik played deeper and slightly more centrally, often up against Armand Traore but sometimes dropping into the midfield to create a 3 v 2 situation against Juventus’ central midfielders.


The central midfield zone was 2 v 2, but Napoli’s duo had much more understanding and cohesion, and they simply outbattled Juventus’ pairing. Delneri prefers playing a ball playing midfielder alongside more of a scrapper (generally Alberto Aquilani and Felipe Melo, in something similar to the Pirlo-Gattuso combination that has served Milan and Italy well for so long), but here he had to field Aquilani alongside Claudio Marchisio, and that zone lacked fight and determination. On the other hand, Michele Pazienza and Walter Gargano have a good relationship, with Gargano moving forward and joining the attack more.


The three goals all came from crosses into the box, with the first two being provided by the wing-backs. In addition to poor tracking of those players, Juve were also guilty of not dealing with Cavani’s movement well enough. The Uruguayan’s runs inside the penalty box were superb, but equally Juventus had a spare man at the back and should have dealt better. Of course, both sides had a spare man in defence, but only one side tried to threaten the other with movement and switching of positions.

That said, Luca Toni battled well – he is still one of the best strikers around when it comes to physical challenges against multiple centre-backs – and had a goal ruled out. His debut was the only positive for Juve.

He was overshadowed by Cavani, though. The first two goals were excellent headers and the third might well have been as well – but there is some speculation that he missed the ball with his head, and instead put it in with his heel, this replay shows why. Replays remain inconclusive, but either way it was a superb hattrick from arguably the European signing of the season.


Napoli’s 3-4-2-1 is one of the most exciting systems around at the moment, and this was a perfect game to show it off. A spare man at the back, energetic wing-backs outrunning opposition wingers, and movement upfront causing the defence problems. 3-0 may have slightly flattered Napoli, but theiy executed their tactical plan superbly.

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