Eight points on Manchester City 1-1 Napoli

September 15, 2011

The starting line-ups

Walter Mazzarri’s tactics should be commended after a disciplined Napoli side deserved their point at Manchester City.

1. The battle when wing-backs come up against interiores (wide players that come into the middle of the pitch) is always interesting. In theory, the wing-backs should be very uncomfortable coming inside into the centre of the pitch – they’re meant to be covering the flanks, after all – but the situation is different in a 3-5-2 to with the system that Napoli play, which has two wide forwards.

In the 3-5-2, if the wing-back comes inside, he opens up space on the flank for the opposition full-back motoring forward unchecked. However, because Napoli’s front three made sure they were occupying Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandr Kolarov, Cristian Maggio and Juan Zuniga could afford to come inside and track Samir Nasri and David Silva. Neither City player had a good game. In fact, Napoli’s goal came when Nasri moved into the centre of the pitch, and Maggio intercepted the ball from Gareth Barry’s backheel, started a break, and Edinson Cavani scored. Another factor is that one of Silva’s favoured moves – to go to the flank, then move back towards his own goal to drag the opposition full-back out (Bolton’s Paul Robinson couldn’t handle this a couple of weeks ago) doesn’t affect the opposition so much – a wing-back is relatively happy to move forward in advance of his midfield line.

2. Equally, the wing-backs have quite a promising situation when it comes to attacking – and again, the fact Maggio created the goal backs this up. The closest Napoli came to scoring apart from that, through Ezequiel Lavezzi, was when the other wing-back, Zuniga, broke forward untracked. Nasri and Silva often end up in central positions when moves come to an end, which means that they’re not in a great position to cover the flanks. In addition, they’re not naturally good defensive players – they often switch off for a couple of seconds before regaining their position. Napoli were broadly defensive-minded for a lot of the game and played on the counter, but in the return fixture we might see the two wing-backs attacking much more.

3. Napoli’s counter came from a mistake from Barry, who was used as the holding player. Widely expected to be a casualty of City’s squad improvement, Barry has started the season well – but this was an unforgivable mistake. The primary role of a holding player when playing at home against a counter-attacking side is basically to stop breaks (as well as passing the ball well, of course) – not only was Barry unable to stop a lot of Napoli’s counters, he actually caused the most crucial one. Nigel de Jong is a very important player for City.

4. Predictably, Napoli were vulnerable to Sergio Aguero’s movement, particularly when he moved wide. Napoli’s centre-backs didn’t mind coming out from the back to meet him (they had 3 v 2 and a spare man covering), but as Nasri and Silva moved inside, Aguero worked the channels. He created City’s best chance in the first half from there (when Yaya Toure hit the bar) and also caused two Napoli defenders to be booked when he moved to the left.

5. Napoli were completely happy to let City’s centre-backs have the ball, which pinpointed a slight weakness in City’s side – that their centre-backs aren’t very imaginative in possession. The lack of pressure (and the lack of incisiveness) meant that the most frequent passing combination in the game was Joleon Lescott to Vincent Kompany, 20 times.

6. City were too narrow for much of the game, and the introduction of Adam Johnson for Nasri late on gave them more options. Silva and Nasri moving inside was one problem, but also…

7. …Mancini chose the two full-backs with less technical quality in each position. Pablo Zabaleta is a terrific defender and a willing runner, but lacks the athleticism of Micah Richards. Aleksandr Kolarov has a great left foot (as showed for the free-kick) but Gael Clichy is a better passer. Even within a very positive performance overall, it was quite a defensive selection from Mancini in those positions – although understandable, given the threat of Napoli’s front three.

8. Another issue when discussing the City full-backs going forward is the slight lack of mobility of the centre-backs, who look uncomfortable in wide areas. Lescott, despite often playing left-back over the years, always looks reluctant to leave his centre-back position. Kompany, a fine tackler and brilliant in the box, can look problematic when forced to cover 20 yards or so, and his late error by the touchline demonstrated a touch of clumsiness. If the centre-backs don’t want to cover the wide positions, the full-backs will get forward less. Again, this is something de Jong can help with.

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