Inter 2-1 Napoli: Cassano & Insigne the key men but Guarin provides the most important contributions
Inter leapfrogged Napoli and into second place in Serie A.
Andrea Stramaccioni was without Walter Samuel, so moved Esteban Cambiasso into the centre of defence.
Walter Mazzarri brought Christian Maggio back into the starting line-up, but otherwise named an unchanged side.
This was a good, open game of football – Inter stormed into a 2-0 lead and although Napoli fought back, they couldn’t quite find an equaliser, partly thanks to some fine Inter defending.
This was a battle between two similar formations – essentially 3-4-1-2 systems. It was a slight surprise to see Walter Gargano fielded higher up than Javier Zanetti, who was a solid holding midfielder, but otherwise the sides were as expected, and matched one another in the centre of midfield. Javier Zanetti was close to Marek Hamsik, Gargano near Gokhan Inler, while Fredy Guarin was higher up near Valon Behrami.
In this zone, neither side really gained control of the match. Inter’s three midfielders performed better – Zanetti had a fine game in front of a makeshift defence, while Guarin played one of his better games for Inter, driving forward to connect midfield and attack – also opening the scoring with a great volley from an Antonio Cassano corner, and providing the assist for Diego Milito to make it 2-0 to Inter.
Yet Inter didn’t necessarily have charge of the midfield – and in matches like this, between two sides that are better at playing on the counter-attack (Inter have generally performed better on the road than at San Siro this season), you sometimes wonder what the purpose of the midfield is.
This certainly wasn’t a match decided by dominance of possession (Napoli had 63%) and both sides are much more threatening when running with the ball directly, for neither side has any great creativity in the centre of the pitch. Hamsik and Guarin are ‘drivers’ rather than creators.
Cassano and Insigne
Therefore, the key men were the two withdrawn forwards, those that dropped away from the opposition defence into pockets of space. Cassano was on form here, dropping away from Gamberini – who still doesn’t look suited to a right-sided centre-back role, and was withdrawn at half-time (although a facial injury may have contributed to his departure). Cassano always drifts left, although he might have been even more effective working against Manuel Britos, who remains the weakest of Napoli’s back three.
At the other end, Lorenzo Insigne was doing pretty much the same thing – drifting wide and then taking on Andrea Rannochia. He cut inside onto his right foot, and was very prominent in the first 20 minutes or so, although Rannochia actually looked more comfortable as the game wore on, as if he’d worked out what Insigne was attempting to do. Meanwhile, Cavani didn’t stay in central positions without the ball, instead moving to the right to occupy Juan Jesus. It’s debatable whether this was the right approach, because it gave Cambiasso time on the ball.
For the second half, Mazzarri made an attack-minded change, bringing on Goran Pandev for Gamberini, and moving to a very fluid system featuring a back four. Maggio and Juan Zuniga became the full-backs, Inler and Behrami sat ahead of the defence, while high up the pitch Hamsik played to the right, Insigne on the left, and Pandev played close to Cavani, almost in a 4-4-2.
Napoli aren’t accustomed to playing with a back four, and their full-backs continued to play like wing-backs, trying to overload Inter down the flanks. There was now a difference in formations, and an obvious tactical question that would decide the second half – would Napoli take advantage of the two-versus-one situations on the wings, or would Inter exploit the space behind the full-backs on the break?
It could have been settled as early as the 50th minute – Cassano drifted in behind Maggio, got time to run with the ball, and although Maggio got back into position, he allowed Cassano space to fire a shot against the post.
Napoli score, Inter adapt
Meanwhile, Napoli were pushing forward and putting severe pressure upon the Inter backline, getting a goal back from a set-piece, and Stramaccioni changed his shape. Guarin was no longer needed in the centre of the pitch, where Napoli were using only two midfielders, so he was switched to a right-sided position, asked to look after Zuniga. Napoli continued to dominate the ball, but they weren’t overloading Inter on the flanks particularly well. Guarin and Rannochia were defending nicely against Insigne and Zuniga, while Alvaro Pereira was more in danger of being overwhelmed by Maggio and Hamsik – but Hamsik generally moved inside. Napoli had numbers in that zone and attempted plenty of shots from range.
Stramaccioni also used his substitutes better in the second half. Why did Mazzarri take off Inler, bringing on Blerim Dzemaili? That didn’t seem to add anything to Napoli’s game. Meanwhile, Stramaccioni removed both Cassano and Milito, who had tired from their constant running into the channels. Rodrigo Palacio and Coutinho had mobility and pace, with Coutinho playing to the left, in a slightly more advanced version of the role Guarin played.
Napoli put pressure upon Inter, but overall it was a fine defensive effort from the home side in the second half, tactically and in terms of individual displays.
Stramaccioni was particularly pleased with the performance of Guarin. “I asked him to act as trequartista in the first half, then needed him to sacrifice himself marking Zuniga,” he said. “I am happy with his performance.” He also explained why he didn’t play Palacio from the start, as he had against Juventus, for example. “I didn’t use a trident attack because Gokhan Inler, Valon Behrami and Hamsik have too much quality and it would’ve been too big a risk to our own stability.”
“Napoli had more possession, but Inter were clinical and took their chances. I am happy with the way the team played, but disappointed at the result,” offered Mazzarri.
This was basically two separate tactical battles – in the first half the formations were similar and Cassano and Insigne were the key men, but Guarin provided the most important contributions. In the second half, Napoli pushed men forward but Inter reacted intelligently.
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