Serie A 2019/20: Bologna vs Napoli – tactical analysis
This game of Serie A, saw Bologna host Napoli on 15th July 2020. Bologna resumed their campaign after league restart with a 2-0 loss to Serie A title favourites Juventus, while Napoli’s first game after the restart ended in a 2-0 win away to Verona. Since their respective restarts, Bologna have won, drawn and lost two games each; while Napoli have won four, drawn and lost one each. The reverse fixture, played back in December 2019, went to Bologna, 2-1, as they beat Napoli away from home. Napoli have all but lost hopes of Champions League qualification, but have already qualified for the Europa league courtesy their cup win. For Bologna, a win would mean they consolidate their mid-table position. This tactical analysis brings to light the tactics and plays that both the teams applied in the game.
The fixture was a 1-1 draw, with both teams going all out in the contest. Napoli were arguably the better team in the first half, creating a host of chances and shots. They got four out of their five shots on target in the first half, and kept Bologna from getting any shots on target at all. The second half saw a resurgent Bologna side, who from the restart were better than a surprisingly dull Napoli. Despite two of their previous goals being ruled out for offside by VAR, Bologna kept pushing and got one in the 80th minute to equalise. This analysis aims to highlight a few of the tactics deployed by both teams in the game.
Siniša Mihajlović based his tactics in his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation, that he has favoured for over 55% of Bologna’s games. Łukasz Skorupski started in goal with a back four of Ibrahima Mbaye, Danilo, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Ladislav Krejčí. Nicolás Domínguez and Gary Medel played in the midfield. Andreas Olsen, Roberto Soriano and Musa Barrow took up playmaking positions behind sole striker Rodrigo Palacio.
Gennaro Gattuso set his game tactics in a 4-1-4-1, a formation that Napoli has played the least amount of time in. Gattuso made as many as 6 changes from the last game, and presumably, this switch in tactics was to accommodate the changes. Alex Meret started in goal with a back four of Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Kostas Manolas, Nikola Maksimović and Elseid Hysaj. Elif Elmas, Diego Demme and Piotr Zieliński started in a midfield three. Matteo Politano, Arkadiusz Milik and Hirving Lozano played as the front three for Napoli.
Bologna: defensive fluidity
This section of the tactical analysis looks at the defensive shape, or lack thereof, adopted by Bologna. All football games see both sets of teams take two shapes in course of the game: attacking shape when they are in possession of the ball, and defensive shape when they are not in possession of the ball. While some managers and teams allow absolutely no room to alter this shape in the game, there are some teams which are slightly more flexible with the shape. This structured shape approach is even more rigid when teams are out of possession and defending, while in attack a certain degree of flexibility is believed to add creativity and unpredictability to the gameplay. Bologna in the first 45 minutes of the game, played or were forced to play, a seldom attempted flexible defensive shape approach. While the degree of flexibility wasn’t as much as in-possession tactics would have, it was certainly enough to cause disturbances to Napoli’s build-up play. On the flip side, it can also be said that Napoli forced the fluidity upon Bologna to disturb the shape. The below analysis depicts some instances where this approach was on display. The analysis highlights how the Napoli forwards were able to draw their defensive counterpart out of position, thereby causing a shift in positions for the Bologna team. While the Napoli forwards did their jobs well, equal credit will also have to be given to Bologna for holding shape despite the constant tease.
Below is an analysis of an instance from the game when Lozano was able to draw out Mbaye from his position on right back. Mbaye followed Lozano to press and win the ball, but in his pursuit left the position at right-back open. Olsen sensing this shift, immediately switches his position from the middle to the right-back position vacated by Mbaye. Thereby, maintaining the back four shape as per their tactics.
Another such instance is also when Lozano managed to lure Mbaye out again. It could also be taken as Mbaye decided to intentionally come forward to press Lozano and win the ball. Either way, his movement vacated the right-back position and broke the defensive back four. Domínguez spots the movement and anticipates the gap that’s going to open up. He follows his man, goes past him, and takes up Mbaye’s vacated right-back position. Domínguez restores the back four with his movement and stabilizes the shape.
This instance was a regular feature throughout the first 45 minutes of the game. As mentioned earlier, this could be a consequence of either of two things:
a. The Napoli forwards were able to lure out the Bologna backline effectively.
b. The Bologna backline deliberately pressed the Napoli forwards to pressure them. As a part of the tactics, the fluid defensive position would be taken up by the closest teammate.
Fair play to both the teams, if both of the above statements hold true.
Napoli: tight as a drum!
This section of the tactical analysis looks at one of the more obvious tactics on display by Napoli. Analysis shows that Bologna’s PPDA of 8.3 is less than half of Napoli’s 18.7, it is fair to say that Bologna’s intense press caused Napoli more trouble than they would have liked.
PPDA is the number of passes allowed by a team before they make a defensive action. It is a widely accepted accurate indication of the pressing intensity of a team. The more the number of passes allowed before making a defensive action, the higher the PPDA. The higher the PPDA, the lower the pressing intensity. In other words, PPDA is inversely proportional to the passing intensity. It was therefore important the Napoli found a way to tackle the press and created pockets of spaces to play. Napoli played a lot of next, short and quick passes throughout the game to tackle this high press. The analysis looks at how Napoli managed to do this by tweaking their tactics. First up, the analysis shows that Napoli set up super compact in the middle of the park. The below image highlights how different Napoli’s setup was from that of Bologna’s tactics.
The low gap between Napoli’s defensive and engagement line meant that they were able to pack all of the action and all of their players within that area. This allowed them to play short quick passes to bypass Bologna’s intense pressing. However, this put more pressure on their forwards and is also one of the reasons why we saw so little of them all game. What it did do for Napoli, was that enabled them to beat Bologna’s press. Below are some instances when their tactics worked in their favour.
Playing a tight compact shape in the middle of the park, helped Gattuso control the game for portions of play. Given a lot of Napoli’s play is possession tactics based, and Bologna’s press would have made it difficult for Napoli to hold possession, their best bet was to play short quick passes and move the ball forward. While the compact shape tactics took away points from their attacking threat, it did give them points in the midfield.
This section of the tactical analysis looks at two eerily similar errors just minutes apart on either side of the pitch. After having two goals disallowed for offside by VAR, Bologna finally got an equaliser in the 80th minute courtesy Musa Barrow. Soriano brilliantly controlled an aerial ball received from the keeper, and put it into the path of Barrow who dribbled it well past the two Napoli defenders and slotted the ball into the net beautifully. This time, the goal stood. While we can take nothing away from Soriano’s control and Barrow’s dribbling & finishing, it can be argued that it was Maksimović’s poor decision to come forward and break the backline, that also contributed to the goal. Maksimović was teased into coming forward by Palacio, which created a gap in the backline. Barrow made a run into the gap to exploit it, and Soriano intelligently passed the ball into the space ahead of Barrow in the gap. Barrow claimed the ball, and put it into the net. The below analysis takes a look at the incident pictorially.
A similar incident happened in the final minute of play, with Danilo the culprit instead of Maksimović. Below is an analysis of the incident. While Mertens couldn’t convert the error into a goal, it certainly did deserve to be put away.
See the similarity in the defensive lapses?
The game was a cracker of a contest with both teams gunning for victory. A game of two halves, and two different characters of both teams. Each of the teams had their half, with Napoli starting brighter and Bologna ending brighter. The analysis suggests that the game could be described as a midfield battle with little to show for both sets of forwards. The tactical analysis also brings out how Napoli set up tactics to counter Bologna’s tactics of an intense press. With both teams playing to win, and taking their chances too, the draw seems like a fair outcome of the game all things considered. Napoli have already qualified for the Europa league but will want to get as higher up as possible having already missed champions league qualification mathematically. Bologna will want to consolidate their position in the table and end the campaign on a high. Both meetings considered it would be safe to say that Bologna got the better of Napoli this season.