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Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics

Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis

Matchweek 2 of the Serie A season 2020/21 saw Napoli host Genoa at the San Paolo stadium. In their games from the previous season, Napoli got the better of the two teams, drawing at home and winning away at Genoa. Napoli, playing their first home competitive game since the lockdown, routed Genoa 6-0.

The last time Napoli put six past their opponent, was in season 2017/18 against Benevento Calcio. The kick-off was delayed due to Genoa keeper Mattia Perin tested positive for the coronavirus. Napoli played a strong brand of attacking football to thrash the visitors 6-0, after a successful yet modest scoring first half. The second half saw a drop in intensity for Genoa while Napoli continued their juggernaut tactics to dismantle the Genoa defence.  This tactical analysis brings to light the tactics and plays that both the teams applied in the game. The analysis aims to highlight some of the events that unfolded in the game, which led to the scoreline.

With no Champions League this season, Napoli must hope they play better this time around and battle Juventus for the title. As for Genoa, they must find a way to get away from the relegation zone following last year’s near escape.


Gennaro Gattuso set his Napoli team up in 4-4-2 tactics; a formation that Napoli found very effective in the previous game against Parma. Alex Meret started in goal with a back four of Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kostas Manolas and Elseid Hysaj. Fabián Ruiz and Piotr Zieliński started as the two central midfielders along with Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne providing width in the midfield. Dries Mertens and Victor Osimhen played as the front two for Napoli.

Rolando Maran set his team up in 3-5-2 game tactics, in an attempt to nullify Napoli’s width in the middle of the park and have three centre-halves to shield the goal. Federico Marchetti started in goal, with a back three of Davide Biraschi, Edoardo Goldaniga and Andrea Masiello. Davide Zappacosta and Luca Pellegrini played as the wingbacks to double up with attacking and defensive duties. The midfield three consisted of Lukas Lerager, Milan Badelj and Miha Zajc. Mattia Destro and Marko Pjaca played in a front two for Genoa.

Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
The starting line-ups for the game.

Defensive Shape: Fluid Napoli vs Rigid Genoa

The first section of the tactical analysis takes a look at both teams’ off-the-ball shape, and the press tactics used. It is an analysis of how either teams setup in terms of tactics and in terms of their pressing intensity to win the ball back when they were out of possession. It is hard to argue that the result doesn’t reflect the true outcome of the game. Genoa held decent possession of the ball and did play some good ball too. But one of the key factors for their thrashing result, was their lack of fluidity in defensive shape and the lack of intensity they showed to win the ball back. This section of the tactical analysis shows how Genoa’s aforementioned flaws in tactics led to their downfall in the game, without Napoli having to do as much as they’d have expected to.

The first instance is early on in the game when the ball is near the midline. Napoli switches from their starting tactics of 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 in order to press Genoa’s play and win the ball back. When the ball is in their own third, and they are out of possession, Napoli switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 narrow. By having this fluidity in the defensive shape, it allowed Napoli to balance their press – defence dynamic. Below are some images to support the analysis for Napoli’s defensive shape fluidity.

Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Napoli shape in a 4-3-3 when they’re out of possession and the ball is in the middle of the park. This helps them press the Genoa players, while also maintaining defensive solidarity.
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
When Napoli are out of possession, they re-shape into a 4-4-2 narrow. The additional man in the centre adds more stability to the shape now that the opposition is closer to the goal. This formation indicates the shift in focus from balanced to defensive.

While this fluidity helped Napoli balance their play well, the lack of it hampered Genoa’s ability to win the ball back. When you consider the same stimuli, i.e. when Genoa are out of possession, and the ball is in the midfield and when the ball is in their own third – they retain the same defensive shape of 5-3-2. While this should intuitively add a lot of stability to the defensive, it does also put the defence under a lot of consistent pressure from the team in possession. Since there is a lack of bodies in the front, there is therefore a lack of press on the team in possession. Consequently, Napoli had more time and space to create chances, and put the defence under pressure. While the Genoa defence stood decently well till halftime, their lack of press got the better of them which led to them shipping 5 goals to the home team. The below images support the analysis of Genoa’s defensive shape and tactics.

Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Genoa shape in a 5-3-2 defensively, when they are out of possession, and the ball is the middle of the park. The absence of any press upfront, meant that Napoli had enough time to weave chances.
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Genoa shape in a 5-3-2 defensively, when they are not in possession and the ball is moving towards their third. While a 5-3-2 in this case makes sense, to be in a 5-3-2 without press when the ball is in the middle of the pitch – means you’re inviting pressure.

It is fair to say that Genoa missed a trick or two, by not successfully executing the 5-3-2 defensive shape. While the analysis doesn’t say that a rigid defensive shape is bad, it does however say that Genoa didn’t execute the shape too well and maybe in this game, a little bit of fluidity would have helped contribute to the press.

Napoli Press vs Genoa un-Press(!?)

The second part of this tactical analysis, takes a look at the pressing intensity of the teams involved. While the first section covers the defensive press shape, this section adds another layer by doing an analysis of the press intensity. Genoa’s rigid shape, coupled with a weak press, meant that the resultant tactics would attract immense pressure from Napoli. The analysis shows that Napoli had a PPDA of 13.1 while Genoa had a PPDA of 23.9. PPDA stands for passes allowed per defensive action; it means that Napoli allowed 13.1 passes to be played before they took a defensive action, while Genoa allowed 23.9 passes before taking a defensive action. To set context to those numbers, the league average for season 2019/20 was 10.92, with Napoli averaging 10.77 and Genoa averaging 10.23. The below chart indicates PPDA numbers for both teams, in different periods of the game, to support the analysis.


Genoa allowed nearly twice as many passes as Napoli, before making a defensive action.

Apart from the shocking numbers for PPDA in the game for Genoa, another thing that stands out is the fact that Napoli’s most successful period in terms of goals (46′-75′) coincides with Genoa’s weakest PPDA period (46′-75′). There could be two ways of reading this, of course, with the cause-effect events read differently. For some, the press may have been weak due to the goals, while it could also be that the weak press led to Napoli scoring the goals. It must be noted from the graph, that the latter seems to be the more plausible explanation – the PPDA was always on the downward slope, when the goals hit Genoa. When their PPDA was upward (even good between 31′-45′), Napoli found it harder to control the game, as indicated in the period from 16′-45′.

It isn’t just the lack of press from Genoa, but also the coordinated press from Napoli which led to the goals landslide. Take, for instanc, the goal involving Zieliński. Napoli were out of possession and pressing in their usual 4-3-3 when the ball was in the final third. The front three for the press – Elmas, Osimhen and Mertens. Napoli were clearly outnumbered in the final third, and Genoa were able to pass their way out. Zieliński spotted this, and moved in from the midfield to aid the press. This movement took Lerager by surprise and forced an error, which led to the goal. Below are the images from the game, which support the analysis.

Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Napoli’s usual 4-3-3 press in the final third, with the front three of Mertens, Osimhen and Elmas. Zieliński is in the mid-press line.
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Biraschi looks to pass the ball (solid white arrow) to the oncoming Lerager. Zieliński spots this and runs forward (dashed golden arrow) to aid the press. Lerager is unaware of Zieliński’s movement.
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Zieliński’s quick movement to aid the press, catches Lerager off-guard. This movement has formed a pressing triangle (dashed red lines) around the unaware Lerager.
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Lerager, unaware of the movement, makes a horror pass (solid red arrow) straight to Zieliński. Zieliński puts a simple pass (dashed golden arrow) into Mertens’ path (dashed white arrow) who converts it for goal.

The above analysis instance is just one example from the game, on how Napoli’s superior pressing and movement got the better of Genoa’s slow and drab movement.


This section of the tactical analysis takes a look at how unnecessary movement cost Genoa a goal. Genoa’s lack of press  and movement was repeatedly brought out in the game, which even cost them goals. However, for this one, in particular, too much of it caused a goal. Elmas, kept teasing Ghiglione with his movement, since the time he came on. On this particular occasion, Elmas dragged Ghiglione out of his position, which broke Genoa’s back five. Hysaj and Koulibaly sensed the opening exploited it. Koulibaly played in a long ball to Hysaj who was charging into the gap and towards the final third. By now, Elmas and Ghiglione also rushed back into the gap to enter the fray. Hysaj controlled the ball beautifully before putting it into the path of the oncoming Elmas who converted the ball for Napoli’s goal. Ghiglione was completely outplayed by Elmas’ movement. The below images from the game support the analysis.

Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Elmas drags (dotted red arrow) Ghiglione out of his position and creates a gap in the Genoa back five. Hysaj spots the gap (red marker) and runs (dashed white arrow) towards it.
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Koulibaly plays a long pass (solid golden arrow) into that gap, for Hysaj to run into. Elmas (dashed white arrow) and Ghiglione (dashed red arrow) too start to run behind into the gap.
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Hysaj controls the ball well and puts it (dashed golden arrow) into Elmas’ path (dashed white arrow).
Serie A 2020/21: Napoli vs Genoa – tactical analysis tactics
Elmas fends off Ghiglione once more, and receives the ball (dashed golden arrow) put in by Hysaj. Elmas converts the pass into a goal for Napoli.


The tactical analysis covers some of the key events in the game, which led to the result of 6-0. Genoa seemed to have a torrid time on the field – trying to ascertain the ideal press intensity, the ideal shape and the ideal amount of fluidity required to contain Napoli. It was a game where Napoli possessed everything that Genoa lacked – shape, fluidity and press intensity.

Napoli have started the season well, and they seem to have carried on their passing play tactics from last season. They have won two games out of two, and look good with Osimhen on top. Genoa have not beaten Napoli at the San Paolo for 12 games in a row now, and after their season opener win, lie in the 11th place. With a full season lying ahead of us, both teams will begin to finetune their tactics and find their rhythm as we get further into the games. While Napoli must aim to finish in the top two-three, Genoa will have to find a way to get away from the relegation zone they marginally escaped in the last season.