Serie A 2019/20: Sampdoria vs Napoli – tactical analysis
In the 22nd match day of Serie A, Napoli travelled to Luigi Ferraris to challenge Sampdoria. For the home team, they struggled in the early stages of the season, but they climbed back from the bottom to the 16th of the table, though they had one victory in the last five only.
Napoli showed better signs after the new signings join the team, they beat Lazio and Juventus in the past two games. Gennaro Gattuso’s men a looking to gain as many points as possible in order to reach a continental competition qualification spot.
Sampdoria played in a 4-4-2 formation. There were a few changes compared to the draw against Sassuolo. The right-back, Bartosz Bereszyński was suspended, hence, Morten Thorsby dropped to that position; Karol Linetty moved from the left-wing position to the centre, partnered with Albin Ekdal at the centre of the midfield. Jakub Jankto played as the left-winger.
For Napoli, Gattuso played his usual formation, a 4-3-3. The major part of the starting lineup remained the same, only some forced changes at the midfield. Diego Demme was not fit to start, so the German stayed on the bench and Stanislav Lobotka played as a sole pivot. Fabián Ruiz was also unavailable for the game. However, there were strong boosts for the team as they welcomed Kalidou Koulibaly and Dries Mertens on the bench.
The block and press of Sampdoria
In the first half, Sampdoria set up a midblock to resist Napoli, with a 4-4-2 shape. It was a flexible block which the shape could be adjusted according to the position of the ball. When the ball is positioned centrally, sometimes it looked like a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2 as a midfielder stayed slightly close to mark Lobotka.
When the ball moved to the side, Sampdoria tried to contain Napoli midfielders by adjusting the block. They formed a quadrilateral defensive shape with a midfielder and the winger on the ball side stepped forward, joining the strikers, as shown in the below image.
Below is the pass received map of Lobotka, the sole pivot of Napoli. As he was covered in most cases, in this match, he only received 22 passes from his teammates in an hour of playing time. Also, there were very few passes which he received at the centre of the pitch.
The build-up of Napoli
In general, all phases of the attack of Napoli utilized the width well. Gattuso’s team insisted to play out from the back. With the full-backs staying at the wide-area, they tried to stretch the block, increasing the horizontal distances between Sampdoria players. If the opposition block kept compact at the centre, then Napoli were going to progress the ball through the flanks.
Napoli players were also good at switching the ball from side to side, eliminated the pressure on the ball side and progressed on the weak side.
Some tactics of Gattuso, including the use of dropping players, also appeared in this match. The first example was a Napoli attack which tried to penetrate through the centre. When Lorenzo Insigne received Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s pass, he noticed that he was surrounded by a bunch of Sampdoria players.
Meanwhile, Napoli’s right-back, Hysaj recognized the spaces generated on the far side, as Insigne took many oppositions with him. The skipper also placed a pass to allow his team switching the attacking focus in an instant.
Below was another example, which Napoli utilized the width to attack. On this occasion, Piotr Zieliński stayed at the half-spaces to pin Linetty. Lobotka was unavailable as he was surrounded by three players.
Since the Sampdoria blocked stayed at the centre to deny penetration, it gave Napoli chances to attack flanks. Konstantinos Manolas identified the spaces on the left flank and the presence of Mário Rui.
Napoli in the final third
As mentioned, Napoli did well to stretch the pitch, which also applied to their shape in the final third. The positioning all stretched the defence of Sampdoria and gave more options for the ball carrier.
On this occasion, we could see Napoli players evenly spreading in a different area of the pitch. Rui was on the left; José Callejón was on the right, behind the left-back; at the centre, there were Eljif Elmas and Arkadiusz Milik.
Sampdoria did not have enough defenders to cover all players and spaces. Therefore, Zieliński had many options. He neglected Rui, who was overlapping on the left. He kept the ball at the centre, combined with Milik in zone 14.
Of course, Napoli had a strong left channel, they also utilized this advantage when they had chances and spaces. As Insigne was a player who liked to stay inside and in the half-spaces, looking for chances to attack the goal, he left the wide-area opened for the left-back.
In this example, Insigne confronted Thorsby, the right-back of Sampdoria. He got support at the centre, also the overlapping run of Rui. On this occasion, he released Rui to progress the attack.
Another notable point was the positioning of Napoli players. They also spread evenly on the pitch, but the main point was, the forward run of attacking midfielders. In order to cover or reduce the burden of Milik in the box, they added more numbers in the box.
It was clearer in this situation. Callejón collected the ball on the right. At that moment, Napoli had Milik and Elmas in the box. The two made runs to fool the opponents. Elmas, the attacking midfielder, went to the front post, while Milik, the centre-forward, moved to the far post.
A bunch of Sampdoria players were focusing on Elmas, hence, let Milik to head the ball at the far post. Given the positional and physical advantages of the Polish’s position, he totally beat Thorsby in the air.
Milik dominated in the air in this match. He had six attempted aerial duels, higher than the average of the season, 3.52 (48.1%). The Polish also had a higher percentage of success rate, with 67% in this match.
Direct football of Sampdoria
Offensively, Sampdoria played direct football. Although they made 318 passes in this match, 48 of them (15%) were long passes. They did not insist to play out from the back. When given chances to play the ball, they would try to find the front players.
As, in this image, Sampdoria attacked in a 4-2-4 shape, with the wingers joining the centre-forwards, providing the width and stretching the defensive line.
This could possibly create several favourable conditions for the front players. First, Fabio Quagliarella could have a chance to face the centre-back alone. Second, they could also leave the wide players free when Napoli defenders stayed narrow. For example, Gastón Ramírez was a free player on the right.
Napoli did not struggle to deal with the long balls from positional plays, they recorded a 56% winning rate in the aerial duels. For the centre-backs, Manolas won two out of three, and Di Lorenzo won five out of seven.
Even in the final third, instead of keeping the ball on the ground, Sampdoria also attempted to chip or loft the ball.
On this occasion, Jankto, Ramírez and Tommaso Augello formed a passing triangle. However, the left-back chipped the ball to Jankto in such a short distance, which was difficult for the Czech to control. Jankto tried to set the ball to Ramírez, but the Uruguayan was not ready for it.
In this match, Sampdoria provided some dangerous crosses. They managed to complete 42.67% of their cross, which was five from 12; the season average was 32.5%, with 18.08 crosses per game. The quantity of cross was lower, but the quality, actually it improved.
A part of the reason was the poor marking of Manolas in this match. The Greek was uncomfortable to deal with Quagliarella in this match. Excepting the goal that he slipped and gifted to the wonderful first-time effort of the Italian, on many occasions, he focused on the ball instead of marking the player.
With the wicked movements of an experienced striker like Quagliarella, Sampdoria had their chances when they crossed in. In this scenario, they isolated both strikers against two defenders.
When Augello, the left-back provided the cross, Manolas just stood in the box. Of course, the Greek could head the ball, but before it reached him, Quagliarella attacked the ball and his header was slightly wide only.
Vulnerable Napoli in the transitions
Napoli were weak to defend transitions without the presence of Demme and a good counter-press. In this passing map of the team, it showed several features of Napoli.
Of course, as we saw, both flanks were strong, the wide players and attacking midfielders were connecting each other. The top passing link came from Rui and Insigne. However, centrally, Napoli left too many spaces, Lobotka was the sole pivot, and he was left alone.
It was normal for a possession-based team to open their shape and utilize the width, but this also made them vulnerable in the transitions, as they need more time to regroup the defence to a compact shape.
This was a game example, Sampdoria gained the ball in the defensive third and played long. The counter-press of Napoli was not enough to pressure the ball, making the pass difficult and predictable.
When the ball was at the centre, three Sampdoria players surrounded a lone player, Manolas. Also, the distance of Napoli defenders was huge, as Lobotka failed to cover those areas, and the rest were attacking at the front.
Sampdoria tightened up the defence
In the second half, Sampdoria looked better as they pushed numbers forward. It amended some defensive issues of the first half. They pressed with more players on the front foot, with the full-backs also pushing higher to block the options.
As, in this example, Rui was holding the ball. The pressing four of Sampdoria denied the closest lateral and forward options of the Portuguese. They forced Rui to attempt a more difficult pass.
In the second half, the full-backs marked the wingers tighter, especially Insigne. The Italian received 51 passes in this match, but the figure was unevenly spread in both halves. The first half, he received 35 passes; after the break, 16 only.
It was dismay that Sampdoria could not hold the draw, despite they came back difficultly from two goals down. When looking to the xG, Sampdoria got 2.66, but it was a misleading figure. Since, in this figure, it included a double-effort from close range from Gabiaddini and Ramírez within a minute, also a penalty converted by the former Southampton man. Excluding these three chances, the xG of Sampdoria only had 0.85, 0.59 from five shots of the 37-year-old Quagliarella.
For Napoli, their xG was 1.5, Milik was clinical to score the goal with an xG if 0.05 only, also the one from Mertens only had 1% chances to score according to the xG. Napoli did okay in terms of finishing in this game, hence, it brought them the victory. There were still rooms for improvement, including their counter-press, playing out from the back under pressure, but it showed good signs for Gattuso’s team that they were improving. It was three consecutive wins now, they ranked ninth on the table, two points away from the Europa League spot.