Serie A preview: How can Atalanta stop Napoli’s dominance – tactical analysis
There are a few European teams that have been utterly dominant in the 2022/23 season and while some of them are regularly under the spotlight, others, like Napoli, have surprised with their maturity and efficiency.
Luciano Spalletti’s side have impressed both in Serie A and the UEFA Champions League and they are both top of the league and top of their group after showing consistency in attack and stability in defence.
Atalanta, on the other side, currently only have to worry about the league games and they have thrown a lot of effort to trouble Napoli and settle in second place in the table. The team have had a balanced-out performance, although, with all the squad changes over the past couple of years, their previous attacking approach is starting to fade, which makes them less productive upfront than usual.
Both teams meet each other on Saturday and Gian Piero Gasperini’s team will try to close the gap with Gli Azzurri and remain in the second spot, which Milan now threaten.
In this preview, we use tactical analysis to explain both teams’ tactics and how they can expose each other to get the three points.
Key players and absences
The hosts Atalanta have a few players missing out from the squad for the game, which will inevitably affect their performance. While they do have some options up front, Luis Muriel’s absence decreases their chances to threaten the goal, despite the absence of Napoli’s first-choice central defender Amir Rrahmani.
Another player who is likely to miss the game due to injury is Marten de Roon which can be crucial against Spalletti’s team. De Roon’s presence in midfield is extremely important out of possession and his absence might result in La Dea having difficulties blocking Napoli’s intense attacks on the left.
The lack of a proper replacement for Hans Hateboer on the right flank might also turn out as a problem in case Gasperini needs to make changes. Although Hateboer is one of the best performers for the team, he will be challenged to defend against Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who is absolutely pivotal in attack.
It seems that the only absence for Napoli continues to be Rrahmani. While he has been important in the manager’s current set-up and his partnership with Kim Min-jae worked out perfectly, the team achieved defensive consistency without him as well. Juan Jesus stepped up and didn’t take his starting spot for granted, proving that Spalletti can easily rely on him.
The battle on the flank
The main battle on the field is expected to be the one between Kvaratskhelia and Hateboer. Both players are key to their teams’ attacking efforts, despite the difference in their positions and roles. Although Atalanta focus more of their attacking movement on the left, the Dutch wing-back’s contribution on the right has been very important for them to achieve balance.
Hateboer’s constant movement to the advanced areas and his positional interchanges with his teammates give the latter the opportunity to exploit wider areas and move off the ball to successfully threaten the goal. He supports the ball progression through his ability to hold on to the ball, which, combined with his passing, helps Atalanta in bypassing the press and exploiting quality areas.
Kvaratskhelia’s movement, though, will challenge his defensive contribution immensely. The Georgian’s distinguished technical abilities and dribbling skills can make it difficult for Hateboer to resist, especially having in mind his advanced position.
The Dutch will need to be with increased awareness and stay deeper than usual if he wants to avoid leaving gaps for Kvaratskhelia to exploit. The strong defensive organisation will be crucial for La Dea, as the wing-back will need additional support to be able to stop the Georgian. Closing out space with the help of a midfielder and a centre-back will be important, however, as mentioned, De Roon’s absence significantly decreases the team’s stability out of possession.
The 21-year-old winger’s explosiveness can easily disposition defenders and while Atalanta’s main struggle will be covering the flank, he is expected to trouble them centrally as well, due to his tendency to move out of position and cut inside.
What are Atalanta’s weapons?
It is expected that it wouldn’t be difficult for Atalanta to bypass Napoli’s press and the players’ passing abilities and positional awareness will allow them to build up successfully. However, they might experience struggles in breaking through the defence and dragging defenders out of position. The reason for that will be a combination of the Napoli players’ strong anticipation skills but also the partnerships that Gasperini will rely on in attack.
Instead of fighting for a free space in front of the goal, Atalanta should play smartly and use their strengths to expose the opposition. The team have a better chance of scoring if they focus on attempts from distance. They have already scored four goals from outside of the box, while three of Napoli’s nine conceded goals have come in the same way.
La Dea have the personnel to execute this task successfully with both Teun Koopmeiners and Ruslan Malinovskyi having explosiveness and strong finishing, which can result in scoring from distance.
Mario Pašalić’s movement could also be key in Atalanta’s efforts to break through. His runs to the box and attacking flair allow him to exploit quality positions in the blink of an eye. However, the connection with his teammates should be on point so they can support his movement and supply him with quality balls.
Last, but not least, Gasperini can rely on Joakim Mæhle whose attacking contribution can tilt the scales in Atalanta’s favour, although the left wing-back has been struggling with his form lately.
The other threats to La Dea
Apart from covering Kvaratskhelia, La Dea’s three-man backline will have a few more difficult tasks against Napoli. While it seems like the Georgian is the biggest threat for them, Spalletti’s side have been successful this season due to their versatility in attack.
The constant presence of Victor Osimhen in front of the goal will be a test for the central defenders as the combination of his dribbling, positioning and finishing makes him a huge threat that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Having both Kvaratskhelia and Osimhen means that Atalanta’s usually highly positioned defence needs to be more considerate in their movement and not leave huge gaps behind, since the risk of being exposed on a counterattack is high.
Additionally, Gasperini’s defenders need to be careful in their direct interventions as giving away any set-piece opportunities will be very dangerous for them. The team usually commit a considerably high number of fouls (12.11 per 90) but keeping those away from their box will be key in this game.
Napoli have been extremely efficient from set-pieces this season, more particularly in creating goalscoring opportunities from corners. The team have scored seven goals from corners in Serie A, which only underlines the importance of La Dea’s increased defensive awareness.
As our analysis shows, Napoli’s chances for a win are higher due to the team’s versatility and settled strategy. Atalanta need to be very well prepared tactically and focused if they want to counteract Napoli’s attacking movement. Taking advantage of their opportunities will be crucial if they want to threaten Napoli and get something from the game.