Napoli 3-0 Lazio: Cavani x 3
Edinson Cavani hit a hattrick – and missed a penalty – as Napoli stormed to victory.
Walter Mazzarri started Alessandro Gamberini rather than Salvatore Aronica in defence and Valon Behrami ahead of Blerim Dzemaili in midfield.
Vladimir Petkovic moved back to his 4-1-4-1 / 4-3-3 after an unsuccessful experimentation with 4-4-2 against Genoa, with Miroslav Klose returning upfront, Stefano Mauri moved inside and Senad Lulic out on the left.
Despite Klose’s early disallowed goal (struck off because he admitted punching the ball into the net), this was a fairly simple game. Napoli were more forceful, energetic and direct than Lazio – they won the battle in the midfield and counter-attacked swiftly.
Klose’s disallowed goal came from a corner, and aside from that chance he simply didn’t get enough support from the four midfielders behind him, which was a problem given he was outnumbered 3 v 1 against three strong, physical centre-backs.
Napoli’s four men simply tracked their runners well, and the key was the attacking intent of the Napoli wing-backs, which pushed the Lazio wide midfielders back into defensive positions. This part of the game was particularly interesting, because Petkovic deliberately fielded conservative players on the flanks – Antonio Candreva usually starts in that role, but Lulic was brought in precisely because he’d have to spend a lot of the match running towards his own goal. With the Lazio full-backs often drawn inside by the movement of the Napoli forwards, Petkovic knew he needed defensive protection from higher up.
But this often left Napoli without any width or attacking drive, with Hernandes and Mauri left to half-heartedly support Klose. Strangely, while the wide midfielders were forced back into deeper positions without the ball, the Lazio full-backs were often free to get forward – Abdoulay Konko, in particular, attacked in the early stages with great energy.Ledesma?
Another problem for Lazio was that their key player, Cristian Ledesma – without a direct opponent and therefore in theory having time on the ball – failed to control the game. He finished with a 76% pass completion rate, a dreadful statistic for a spare central midfielder who should have been putting his foot on the ball and allowing his teammates up the pitch. Granted, he was often pressured by Marek Hamsik, who was happy to move central without the ball (often allowing a Lazio full-back forward), but his performance should have been much more pivotal.
Ledesma was also baffled about his role without the ball, particularly at defensive transitions – when Napoli roared past Lazio on the counter-attack. Sometimes he moved higher up the pitch to pressure the Napoli central midfielders, but was neither high enough to stop them, nor deep enough to provide cover against Napoli’s front three.
Then there was the dreadful Lazio offside trap, which allowed Cavani a free run on goal for his second and third goals – on both occasions, it seemed to be Konko dawdling miles behind the rest of his defence that was the main problem. It was very, very easy for Cavani to score his three goals.
Napoli’s vertical evolution
In the absence of any real contest to discuss (and since this was the first time ZM has looked at Napoli this season) it’s worth discussing Mazzarri’s side’s evolution in the centre of midfield. Two seasons ago they had Michele Pazienza and Walter Gargano – basically a ball-winner and a regista – two horizontal players who kept their position and left the counter-attacking to the front three and the wing-backs.
Then Mazzarri replaced Pazienza with Inler, who is more of a combative, hard-working player who can get up and down the pitch in addition to scrapping in the centre. That gave them another player who could break from deep, and Gargano continued to spread the play wide.
Now they’ve sold Gargano to Inter, and can choose between Behrami and Dzemaili alongside Inler. The three Swiss players are all combative and vertical, and although they can sit deep and play a disciplined role (as Inler and Behrami did here against two creative attacking midfielders), it’s a significant change from in previous seasons.
Mazzarri has basically gone from two horizontal players to two vertical players in the central midfield zone, and it’s a increasing trend for Italian clubs playing three at the back to fill two central midfield roles with direct, counter-attacking players rather than ball-players. This might mean more tedious battles like the one on Tuesday night between Juventus and Fiorentina, but against less mobile midfielders it might prove highly effective.
Impressively, Napoli managed to get the better of Lazio in every zone on the pitch. The wing-backs pushed back the wide midfielders, the defenders outnumbered Klose, the midfielders didn’t allow Hernanez and Mauri to create, and the attackers exploited a dreadful offside trap. Lazio sometimes outnumbered their wing-backs down the flanks, but this rarely led to promising opportunities, while Ledesma was unsure of his role as the free man.