Napoli-Chelsea 3-1: visitors’ open defence invites trouble

It could not have come as a surprise to Chelsea how Napoli play. After all, despite Mazzarri’s tactical prowess, Napoli play pretty much the same football as they did last season; the main ingredients of their attacking approach being pace, directness, fluidity of movement, positional shifts, work rate and physicality. Of course, at their best, and with such quality players as Cavani, Lavezzi, Hamsik and Maggio (who perfectly complement each others strengths), they may appear near unstoppable.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should let them roam free. When playing against them (especially at San Paolo), you should keep the defence line tight, minimise the space between midfield and defence (without the midfield sitting on their lap though), and use versatile wide players who are comfortable tracking back (to neutralise Maggio’s and Zuniga’s bursts forward when needed) and go forward (to pin the aforementioned wing-backs back).

This is all pretty uncomplicated stuff of course (particularly on paper), but many lesser teams in Serie A have succeeded in frustrating Napoli this season. Bespite the evidence on show for all to see, Chelsea failed miserably to take note: Chelsea’s backline was spread wide, with the midfield doing little to provide assistance, and the whole team disorganised. As a result, Napoli were able to champion their trademark attacking game and rip the visitors apart time and again. One example of an attack: Maggio (or Zuniga) sprinting forward with the ball down the flank; the Chelsea full back closing in on him, with the nearest centre-back doing the same while the other centre-back falls asleep; Maggio squares the ball to Cavani who has dropped to a deeper position (and making the hole in the defence line even wider); Lavezzi sprints forward towards the gaping hole between the centre-backs, effectively changing positions with Cavani; and the Uruguayan playing a direct pass to release the Argentinean free on goal.

It’s all very simple, but in its simplicity lays its effectiveness. Usually in football, the team that does the simple things better wins.