Napoli 4-3 Lazio: Cavani wins amazing game

April 3, 2011

The starting line-ups

Edinson Cavani scored another hattrick as Napoli battled back from 0-2 and 2-3 down to win.

Walter Mazzarri chose his usual first choice XI for this season, with one exception – Hassan Yebda continued in place of Walter Gargano in the centre of midfield.

Eddy Reja, returning to his former club, surprisingly left out Hernanes and switched to a 4-2-3-1 system.

Despite developing into an astonishing contest, the game actually started quite slowly. Both ‘double pivots’ in the centre of midfield were allowed time on the ball, but tended to pass the ball from side to side, rather than playing it forward, and the match was quite static.

Game takes off

The sides started to get amongst each other as the first half went on, particularly when Yebda moved higher up the pitch and put more pressure upon the two deep Lazio midfielders. This created space in behind, however, and Stefano Mauri was the main beneficiary. He was the key man in a ten-minute spell in the middle of the opening period, scoring the first goal and coming close to another by finding space in an inside-right position, pushing up to connect with Mauro Zarate. Lazio often looked like a 4-2-4 in the attacking phase of play.

Napoli were poor in the first half, creating few goalscoring opportunities. Marek Hamsik was the pick of the front three – he cleverly found space on the edge of the penalty area, but was unable to link up with the other two forwards frequently. With Lazio playing a highish line, Napoli’s best chances came when Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena made long diagonal runs from the wings to get on the end of balls over the top, and Lazio’s full-backs didn’t look comfortable against that pace.

It was surprising that Napoli struggled in the centre of midfield, and they often appeared outnumbered when they had the ball. Usually, when they play against a side with one man upfront, they push Hugo Campagnaro forward slightly, almost as an additional right-sided central midfield. That didn’t happen here, however, because Giuseppe Sculli remained advanced on the left-hand side, well ahead of Alvaro Gonzalez on the right. Yebda had a decent game, but Napoli perhaps missed the authority on the ball offered by Gargano.

Second half

The second half was a crazy contest featuring a red card, a penalty, an own goal, a ‘was it over the line?’ controversy, a last-minute winner, a hattrick, a couple of fights and, in total, six goals. It’s also worth considering that none of the goals resulted from good football or clever build-up play – Lazio’s second half goals came from a set piece and an own goal, whilst Napoli scored from two set-pieces, a penalty, and then after a simple, long hoof downfield from their goalkeeper. It wasn’t technically proficient, but it was extremely exciting – although everything happened in such a frantic fashion, that it’s very difficult to analyse in chronological order. Here then, are some general points from the second half:

First, both sides (particularly Lazio) defended free-kicks abysmally. The marking was atrocious at both ends, and Lazio managed to make life particularly difficult for themselves by helping the ball into dangerous areas – the free-kicks for Napoli’s first and second goals were both flicked on by Lazio players at the near post. They also both found a wing-back unmarked at the far post – the first occasion he headed in himself, the second time he nodded across for Cavani.

Second, Mazzarri used his substitutions very well. He gradually increased his attacking threat – first inserting Giuseppe Mascara to be a ‘runner’ from midfield, and then when Lazio went down to ten men, he threw on Cristiano Lucarelli to provide a focal point for the attacks when Morgan de Sanctis wanted to kick the ball long – this worked well for the winner. In between, he also introduced Gargano, which added guile to the midfield zone.

Third, Lazio were guilty of sitting far too deep. Having started the game with the highish line that Napoli were seemingly only able to exploit sporadically through their wing-backs, they ended up playing with almost the entire side in their own third of the pitch. For a while, Napoli struggled to break through and sat too deep themselves, but considering how badly Lazio defended set-pieces, it was suicidal to allow crosses into a congested penalty area.

Four, Mazzarri ended up with something like a 4-1-1-4 system, similar to the shape Jose Mourinho used on the rare occasions his Inter side were desperate for a goal late on in games. It worked well here – providing a solid defensive base (even though Napoli had started with a back three) and five clear attacking threats, plus one man, Gargano, to break up play and distribute the ball forward.

Conclusion

Arguably the game of the season so far. At 0-2, it appeared Reja had got the better of the tactical battle, but Lazio’s poor defending at set-pieces allowed Napoli back into the game, and from then the momentum and confidence was with the home side. The second half was scrappy, and whilst Napoli didn’t play particularly well at time, they took their chances excellently – only a poor finish from Mascara is memorable as a wasted chance.

Cavani further strengthened his claim to be regarded as the best player in Serie A this season, and unquestionably the most astute signing.

Napoli 4-3 Lazio: Cavani wins amazing game

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