Naples is a city with a very special footballing heritage. You needn’t look further than the one and only Diego Maradona to see this. He forged part of his legend at Napoli, and the city, in turn reignited his passion for football.
After the death of the Argentine star, Naples paid tribute to Maradona by putting his image on the shirt and it seems that his influence is still being felt today.
Napoli, led from the bench by Luciano Spalletti, are currently leading Serie A after a brilliant start to the championship.
With nice football and a great physical display, the Neapolitan team are currently superior to the opposition and are being touted as winners of the Scudetto this year.
Spalleti's team usually plays in a 4-2-3-1, which builds the game from a wide and deep position. His two open centre backs are the players who start the game with the ball, receiving support from two midfielders. The striker fixes the centre backs in their own half and the wingers take advantage of the width to be a constant threat to the other team’s defence. In turn, the midfielder's intermediate position acts as support between enemy lines, which means, if the opposition presses hard, they can move back to provide support and relieve the pressure.
Additionally, if they can’t continue the build up due to high pressuring, they send a long ball upfield and out to the wings to generate one on one situations, moving everyone upfield in tandem.
As the image shows, Spalletti's Napoli usually start out with the wing backs open and the two central players helping to attract the opposition and create spaces behind. They take advantage of spaces between the lines that liberate the inside players. From here they can connect with their attacking players.
The main plan is always to play vertically, continuously searching for space on the wings in order to take advantage of the speed and skill of the forwards. The box is loaded with up to 3 players, ready and willing to take a shot on goal.
Diagonal run from winger attacking the space between central and lateral opposition players
Two images of 3 players flooding the box for a cross
If they don’t find space straightaway, this is a patient team who are happy to circulate the ball between the forward line until space opens up. They circulate in a combative manner, with few touches, moving the ball from one wing to the other and even directly changing the direction and formation.
This creates two on one situations out on the wings, whilst drawing the defense out and creating space in the centre.
The offensive transition is dizzyingly fast. After recovering the ball the first thing they look for is the central players, especially Fabian, who drives with speed. The wingers open up and the forwards give depth. These 3 attack the back of the defense and create the space in the middle so they can drive forward. In addition to this, the positioning of the playmaker is always supportive in front of the midfield, playing between the lines.
On a defensive level, Napoli take advantage of their physical power, especially from two players, the central defender Koulibaly and the midfielder Zambo Anguissa. Thanks to his speed, Koulibaly allows the team to push the defense forward by covering a large area and providing defensive aid.
Anguissa also stands out due to his speed. He takes advantage of this power to occupy many areas of the field. It is he who initiates the suffocating from the players, accumulating up to 4 players on the ball, covering all the passing lanes and forcing the opponent to drive or rush when passing.
But in addition to this pressure, Napoli have also shown that they have a plan B, since, if the opposition overcomes that first line of pressure or even the second line, the team quickly retreats to their own half, setting up two lines of 4 with the positioning of the wingers at the same height as the midfielders.
By doing this, they create a solid defense on each wing where the physical strength and skill of the players make it very possible for them to recover the ball.
Another defensive strength of Napoli is the well distributed accumulation of players within their own area. They can accumulate up to 6 players, especially if they are attacked from the wing. The wing back goes out to cover the opposition player, the central defenders position themselves near the 6-yard box in the centre, the other winger covers the back post, one of the midfielders falls back to the penalty spot and the other covers the space between the winger who went to cover and the center-back. This avoids the back pass into the area. In this way, the playmaker also remains in the rebound area and every space that can be attacked is covered.
Up to 6 players are within the area to defend and the wingers come down to help so that there is no 2vs1 on the wing
Finally, another of Napoli’s great strengths is their defensive transitions. After losing the ball, all the players closest to the action put high pressure on the opponent with the ball, which usually ends in a rapid recovery. Because of this, Spalletti’s team manages to have full control of possession at all times.
Nearby players go to the ball and the others move into passing positions. This covers the ball coming running loose and allows them to steal in very dangerous areas where they can do a lot of damage to the opposition. This is made possible by the offensive and defensive vigilance of the midfielders and defensive line.
Without a doubt, the high performance of the Spalletti team is no coincidence. Thanks to the speed of the attacking players, the physicality of the midfielders and the forcefulness of the defenders, they are currently leading Serie A, striking a fine balance between being very offensive without compromising on defense.
About the Author:
Fernando Nuñez is a coach who has been part of the staff at Racing de Ferrol, in various categories. In addition, he has coached in China. He has extensive academic training in different disciplines related to high performance sports. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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