Juventus 3-0 Napoli: 3-5-2 v 3-4-3
Juventus were by far the better side – they move two points behind leaders Milan.
Antonio Conte, as expected, moved to 3-5-2 with Paolo De Ceglie the left wing-back. There was a surprise upfront, where Alessandro Matri was left out, and Marco Borriello partnered Mirko Vucinic.
Walter Mazzarri’s first XI is always easy to predict, and there were no surprises in the usual 3-4-3 shape.
The reverse fixture was goal-crazy (although a fascinating tactical battle too) – this was much tighter, and less interesting than it should have been. It’s rare to get a formation battle like this – although Conte has generally played a three-man defence against a three-man defence – having done so twice against Udinese, and now twice against Napoli.
Perhaps the players were prepared for the situation, because the battle in the first half was lacking in excitement. We had a very straightforward situation – see below-right. Napoli had a spare man at the back, there was a 2 v 2 in the middle, and a wing-back battle on the flanks.
The only issue was the battle at the other end, although this was the same situation as in the first meeting between the sides. Marek Hamsik dropped back and played around Andrea Pirlo (opposition coaches have worked out that you simply can’t leave Pirlo free) rather than playing high up in a natural front three. Therefore, rather than a 3 v 3 at the back and Pirlo free (which would have made goals more likely, at either end), both sides had a spare man at the back, and it was even in midfield.
So where were the attacking moves going to come from? A decent bet would have been down the flanks, but none of the four wing-backs significantly got the better of their opponent. Stephane Lichtsteiner was more conservative than usual despite one good early cross for Borriello at the near post, and Christian Maggio didn’t last long before being replaced by Andrea Dossena, with Juan Zuniga moving to the other side.
Instead, the focus turned to how one side could outfox the other at the back, and try and void their opponent’s spare man. In theory, Napoli could have done this (especially on the break) with Hamsik moving past Pirlo and high up the pitch. But their transitions were poor – they usually intercept the ball on the edge of their own third and motor forward brilliantly, but here they barely constructed a break in the entire game. Therefore, Hamsik was playing as a midfielder, and Juve remained comfortable.
At the other end, Napoli’s man-marking system meant their back three was being dragged around. In theory, Paolo Cannavaro was the spare man behind Hugo Campagnaro and Salvatore Aronica, but the movement of Borriello and Vucinic was decent (even if their all-round game and workrate without the ball was poor). Therefore, The Napoli defenders weren’t quite sure of who was picking up who, with Cannavaro often being drawn high up the pitch and leaving a big gap between the two remaining centre-backs. Other times, Aronica was drawn into the centre as Vucinic drifted laterally, but Arturo Vidal was often too deep to take advantage of this – he should have been motoring past Walter Gargano more.
Set-piece goal, Napoli respond poorly
The crucial goal was always going to be the opening goal, and Juve got it after half-time, thanks to a free-kick. The way the goal went in – off Cannavaro – was comical and fortunate, but Napoli had conceded far too many free-kicks within their own third, especially when you consider their previous problems in this area (and Pirlo’s brilliance).
Mazzarri then had to move to a more attacking approach, and he brought on Goran Pandev for Gokhan Inler. Hamsik moved a little deeper, but Napoli now seemed more like a front four than a front three, and they pressed Juve 4 v 4 high up the pitch at goal-kicks. This left Gargano on his own against Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, and when the Uruguyan picked up a booking soon after this change, you wondered how much Juve would attempt to attack towards him on the break, and how much longer he would remain on the pitch.
As it happens, Juve didn’t look to break too much – they focused on keeping the ball (which is, of course, also where their midfield advantage came into play). Mazzarri then brought on Blerim Džemaili for Hamsik and reverted to something more like the 3-4-3, albeit with Džemaili playing much higher up than Inler had been (his position was essentially between Inler’s and Hamsik’s, the two departed players).
Still, he was too high up the pitch to do much defensively, and Marchisio and Vidal promptly combined for a quick attack at the Napoli defence and Vidal fired in. Substitute Fabio Quagliarella rounded it off with a good third.
This was very tight and tense in the first half, and it seemed as if a clever change from either coach (probably Conte, the man more likely to switch formation midway through the season) would decide the game. It didn’t take that – Conte’s decision not to change his forwards at half-time was odd – and it was a set-piece that helped get the breakthrough. The use of Borriello (and three centre-backs) helped the set-piece threat, not that there was any great design behind the goal.
Juve were much the better side, however. They had more strength and more guile, and Napoli’s counter-attacking threat was never apparent.