Despite their 11 consecutive Serie A match win streak, Lazio failed to defend their Coppa Italia after falling victim to an early Napoli opener. David Ospina was one of the heroes in his team’s 1-0 win by saving all of Lazio’s shots on target and leaving them with a sour taste.
After an intense opening 35 minutes, both teams saw themselves fall short to 10 men. Napoli lost Elseid Hysaj due to him seeing red early on, but Lazio’s Lucas Leiva received a second yellow card six minutes later to make it even again.
Despite the injuries to some of his most valuable players, Gattuso made the needed changes in order to keep the lead. The team conceded lots of shots to the second-most effective attack in Serie A, but fought back and with Ospina’s help, kept the clean sheet till the end.
Both teams’ formations didn’t last long due to the two red cards. They did initially start in the coaches’ most favoured formations.
Gattuso lined up the team in 4-3-3 with David Ospina on the goal. The back-four contained Mário Rui, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Konstantinos Manolas and Elseid Hysaj. Piotr Zieliński, Diego Demme and Stanislav Lobotka formed the midfield trio. They supported the frontline of Lorenzo Insigne, Arkadiusz Milik and José Callejón.
Simone Inzaghi opted for a 3-5-2. Thomas Strakosha was at the goal, with the support of Ştefan Radu, Francesco Acrebi and Luiz Felipe. The fully packed midfield included Senad Lulić, Marco Parolo, Lucas Leiva, Sergej Milinković-Savić and Manuel Lazzari. Ciro Immobile and Felipe Caicedo were responsible for their attacking actions.
Formations and build-up strategies
As mentioned, Napoli started in a 4-3-3 formation but had to switch to a 4-4-1 soon after due to Hysaj’s red card. Their build-up wasn’t very settled and they relied mostly on off-the-ball movement to be able to advance the ball. They found it hard to penetrate centrally so that’s why they tried to use combinations on the flanks instead. Their whole team was pinned back, including the forward line, which was forced to stay close to the midfield area, affecting their attacking actions.
Lazio’s 3-5-2 structure also had to be changed after Leiva saw red. The team then lined up in a 3-4-2 formation, which forced them to be left with only two midfield players when defending, positioning in a 5-2-2. Their build-up plans were ruined as they didn’t have Leiva’s experience in midfield and they often got stuck out there. Napoli’s defensive actions forced Lazio into sending many back passes attempting to bypass the press with long balls and shots.
One of Biancocelesti’s most active players was Lulić. He was very useful for retaining possession and helping with the build-up. Many of the team’s chances were a result of strategic throw-ins that would help in slowing down the tempo and allowing Lazio to build up patiently from the back. Due to Napoli’s smart positioning, they were often forced to send back passes and switch play in efforts to distribute the ball further. They would hardly find free space centrally which resulted in them constantly sending long balls directly to the attacking line to be able to penetrate the defence.
Napoli’s efforts to keep the lead
Napoli’s positioning worked well for blocking the passing lanes and not giving Lazio many options in attack and forced them to send the ball back. It wasn’t all perfect, though. Despite it being pretty clear that Lazio would attempt long balls, the defenders weren’t always aware of Immobile’s smart positioning. They allowed the ball being delivered directly to the box which resulted in their opponents shooting quite often. When they didn’t have the chance to deliver it to the final third, Lazio attempted to shoot from distance.
They would close out the space between the lines when defending. The midfield’s support was immense both during the transition and when pinned back in defence.
That’s when Ospina’s performance played a huge part. He saved all of Lazio’s five shots on target. He also helped with Napoli’s build-up. Due to their opponents’ high press, Napoli were pinned back and had to rely on Ospina for retaining possession. In the cases when they couldn’t escape the press, he used long passes directly to the opposition’s half.
Lazio had two main struggles throughout the game. Firstly, in being creative and finding a better way to bypass the press, and secondly, being able to convert their chances into goals.
Using long balls behind the defence and shooting from distance were their only ways to reach the final third and that’s how most of their 17 shots were created. Unlike Lazio’s usual form where they’re the second-best goalscoring team in Serie A at the moment, their good finishing was lacking for this game. Even their shots on target weren’t strong enough to challenge Ospina in an irreversible way. Joaquín Correa came on as a substitute in the second half but he somehow couldn’t get involved enough and didn’t contribute as expected.
Their other chance of exploiting Napoli’s defence was using set-pieces, yet again they couldn’t take advantage of that. They had six corners and managed to shoot as a result of four of them, but their offside awareness and positioning weren’t strong enough.
Napoli’s effective defensive strategy and positioning combined with Lazio’s lack of concentration and creativity resulted in Napoli reaching the semi-finals of Coppa Italia. Gattuso needs to transfer this defensive performance forward as they soon will face difficult fixtures, such as current leaders Juventus in the league and Barcelona in the Champions League. They have to find a way to block these expected long balls to be able to completely stop all their opponents.