Roma 2-0 Napoli: Pjanic punishes Napoli after two Cannavaro fouls

October 21, 2013

The starting line-up - both Totti and Britos had to depart before half-time

Roma still have a 100% record in Serie A, and extended their gap over second-placed Napoli to five points.

Rudi Garcia changed both his full-backs – Federico Balzaretti was suspended so Dodo played at left-back, with Maicon back in for Vasilis Torosidis.

Rafael Benitez was unable to use Gonzalo Higuain from the start, so Goran Pandev started upfront. The absence of Juan Zuniga meant Giandomenico Mesto played at left-back.

Roma ran out winners, but this game could have gone either way – Napoli had plenty of chances at 0-0.

Early midfield battle

The start of the contest was very fast-paced, with both sides trying to close down quickly in midfield. In particular, the battle between the central midfield duos: Kevin Strootman and Miralem Pjanic against Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami, gave none of the quartet much time on the ball.

It really seemed like a two-against-two battle at some points, because Daniele De Rossi continues to play a very deep role, almost as a third centre-back at times. He made some crucial interventions inside his own penalty area, justifying his defensive-minded role, and he also managed to shut Marek Hamsik out of the game. The Slovakian played as more of a support striker than a number ten, and rarely offered the two central midfielders a simple forward pass.

Roma create chances

As the first half continued, it became increasingly obvious that Roma simply had better technical quality in this zone, with Strootman keeping possession reliably and Pjanic playing a more attacking role. Whereas Roma seemed able to play around Napoli’s central midfielders, the away side struggled to get the ball past the midfield press, and often conceded possession unnecessarily in deep positions.

Roma were also dominating the midfield because of Francesco Totti’s deep positioning – he dropped into clever positions to form a triangle around Napoli’s two holders, and tempted the centre-backs out from the back. The game’s first clear-cut chance, for Gervinho, came after two big features of Roma’s play: (a) high pressing to win the ball quickly, and (b) Totti dropping deep to drag Napoli’s defence out of shape.

The star performer, however, was Pjanic – not for his two goals, but for his positive distribution and for connecting midfield and attack – this quality was particularly obvious as Hamsik was quiet throughout.

Dodo v Callejon and through-balls

The most interesting individual battle of the game was in Roma’s left-back zone, where the Brazilian Dodo played a very aggressive, committed role – charging forward whenever possible, and storming into tackles extremely quickly. Whereas Maicon started the game quite cautiously, Dodo provided an outlet on the left when Roma were attacking.

However, his aggressiveness also made him Roma’s weak link defensively, and on three separate occasions Jose Callejon wasted good situations. First, he miscontrolled a delicious dinked pass in behind the defence from Lorenzo Insigne, then he shot poorly after another good pass from Inler, and finally he misplaced a pass when Christian Maggio had run forward to create a 2 v 1. Better end product from the Spanish winger, and Napoli could have won the game via this zone.

The fact two of those chances came from through-balls also suggested Roma weren’t particularly compact at times, particularly in wider zones when the two midfielders pressed. Insigne kept darting inside into spaces between the lines, and sent an excellent through-ball for Pandev to spring the offside trap – he had a one-on-one with Morgan De Sanctis, who half-saved and was thankful De Rossi was on hand to clear off the line.

Substitutions

Eventually, the game was decided after injuries to key players. Totti had to depart midway through the first half, and although Marco Borriello is a completely different forward – an old-school number nine who stays in the penalty box – Roma adapted extremely well to his presence on the pitch. Their passes were longer, certainly, but Borriello played with his back to goal and tried to link with the onrushing midfielders, and was therefore almost playing the Totti role, albeit much higher up the pitch.

Napoli lost their left-sided centre-back, Miguel Britos, just before the interval. Although Paolo Cannavaro is a solid defender, remains Napoli’s captain and played at the back for years without looking out of his depth, he had a nightmare in this contest. He seemed either unprepared physically or troubled by Napoli’s back four, having been accustomed to playing in the centre of a three-man defence.

Put simply, Cannavaro’s fouls decided the game – seconds after coming on, he brought down Gervinho after one of the Ivorian’s direct dribbles, with Pjanic converting the free-kick. Midway through the second half, he brought down Borriello in the penalty box, and Pjanic scored his second from the spot. Cannavaro was shown a yellow card for each foul – and therefore not only had his transgressions cost Napoli two goals, they also meant Benitez’s side were down to ten men, and unable to get back into the game. The fact Cannavaro’s dismissal, and the second goal, came just after Higuain was introduced will have been particularly frustrating for the away side.

Conclusion

The first 25 minutes was extremely interesting, with a variety of interesting topics – the midfield pressing, Napoli’s through-balls, Dodo versus Callejon in an open, entertaining game. Napoli had enough chances to consider themselves unfortunate to have lost this contest, and with a fully fit Higuain, they might have fared better.

Neither manager would have predicted a Borriello versus Cannavaro battle being so crucial, and ultimately the latter’s rash challenges decided the contest.



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Roma 2-0 Napoli: Pjanic punishes Napoli after two Cannavaro fouls

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