Push Notification


UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics

How nullifying Lobotka stifled Napoli and helped Liverpool claim victory in the UCL – tactical analysis

The situation in Group A of the UEFA Champions League was almost completely settled before the last round of the group phase, but Liverpool and Napoli had not much to play for in the Tuesday night fixture. Although the home team needed a three-goal win if they wanted to enter the knockout phase as the first-seeded team from their table, they didn’t shy away from the challenge and went for all or nothing in a duel packed with different approaches and witty tactics.

This tactical analysis will show you how Liverpool closed down the main ball progression paths for their rivals and forced them to go away from their most successful ideas. Also, we’ll take a look at how the hosts utilised a hybrid offensive shape that they haven’t used that commonly during this season, and what were the key players for making their system work in this win.


UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics

Jürgen Klopp went into the game with a hybrid 4-3-3 that changed shapes during different phases of the game. Allison was between the sticks, and Ibrahima Konaté was paired with Virgil van Dijk in the middle of the defence, with Konstantinos Tsimikas and Trent Alexander-Arnold operating from wide positions.

The midfield was filled in with Thiago, Fabinho and team-captain James Milner, but also with Roberto Firmino and Curtis Jones, who nominally played as a striker and as a winger, but they were constantly switching between their initial roles and the midfield ones. The one certain wide attacker was Mohamed Salah, who was the main threat to Napoli’s goal.

Luciano Spaletti also set his team into an expected 4-3-3 formation with Leo Skiri Østigård and Kim Min-jae as the two players in front of Alex Meret. The full-back positions were reserved for Giovanni di Lorenzo and Mathías Olivera. Stanislav Lobotka was the spider in the web, playing as the main playmaker from the holding midfielder position, and the closest support to him was provided by André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Tanguy Ndombele. Waiting for isolations down both flanks there were Kvicha Kvaratskhelia and Matteo Politano, whilst Victor Osimhen was the lone striker.

Nullifying of Lobotka

The Italian team plays a really intensive possession-oriented football, that is – by the word of their coach – very role-dependent and not position-determined. On the other hand, the main role in their system is most usually reserved for Stanislav Lobotka, who is the first player in front of the back four, acting as the man sitting on top of the initial triangle/rhombus that will make the progression from the first zone possible.

Establishing the importance of the Slovakian, Klopp made it very clear that their first goal is to cancel the passing lanes towards him and make space for his manoeuvre extremely tight. That made it quite difficult for Napoli to develop their possession fluency as their key link was almost completely shut off. Liverpool’s goal was to ‘cage’ Lobotka and always put no less than three players around him so that the space for his use would become very small.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
They had two tasks to complete in order to cut the passing lane towards Napoli’s defensive midfielder: put intense pressure on the ball carrier while keeping Lobotka in the pressing man’s shadow, and establish numerical superiority against him by the players set lower in the “cage” that were providing support.

Even when the 27-year-old got the ball in these tight gaps, the Reds were instructed to foul him as soon as possible so that Napoli couldn’t progress which resulted in Lobotka spending a lot of time on the grass. This way, Lobotka’s impact was restricted and Napoli was forced to come up with some different solutions and pursue different passing paths.

Liverpool’s block was centrally-oriented as their main focus was to close the midfield progression. That left the low flank positions open for passing, but the intensity of first man’s pressing commonly bottled possession for Napoli as they weren’t comfortable playing these passes under well-timed pressure Firmino was most commonly emitting.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
In the picture, we can see the compact 3-3 block the home team has set with the flank positions opened with no initial pressure focused onto there. The numerical superiority the hosts had against Napoli’s midfield is very obvious in this example, so the passing lanes through the middle were often impossible.

Liverpool had the time to switch to the flanks once the ball was played there and their organised structure kept its shape no matter where the pressing was happening. Also, the mentioned intensity of pressure that was put on the ball carrier impacted the quality of the sent balls.

There were situations where Klopp’s team didn’t do their pressing job very nicely and that left Lobotka free to conduct his team’s actions and deliver them with their Plan A.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
When the pressing on the Slovakian wasn’t properly supported, he’d come out of tight spaces with ease due to his individual qualities and if the space around him was left open he’d utilize it…
UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
…and here we can see how he moved the ball forward in just ten seconds and brought it to Kvaratskhelia in left-flank isolation, which is one of the most dangerous scenarios Liverpool can be put against in their matchup against the Italians.

Luckily for Liverpool, they managed to keep the attention on Lobotka more or less constantly so the said situations haven’t happened that frequently. The fact that they forced Napoli out of their comfort zone by closing down the main progressor of their team was the key for them to neutralise their opponents.

The attacking midfielders’ role in Liverpool’s setup

As it is formerly mentioned, Klopp engaged in a hybrid offensive setup for this game, having Jones play on the left flank, but keeping the Englishman’s role very complex and fluent during the time he spent on the pitch. To put things in context, the 22-years-old was important for the Reds both because of his flank positioning and because of his inverting into the half-space.

First things first, Napoli went into the game with the intention to press very high in a man-marking manner. They tried to force the opposition to stay in possession for shorter amounts of time in order for them to have total control of the possession during the game.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
Napoli’s man-to-man pressing in the opening stage of the game.

Napoli’s consistency in this approach wasn’t top-notch and we could quickly see flaws in their pressing game. They pressed with intensity and number in central and inner corridors but left the flanks wide open and that made it easy for Liverpool to play around the pressing and find an open man next to the byline – especially on the left-hand side.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
The passing lane to Tsimikas was open due to the poor pressing structure of the away team…
UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
…but also because Jones was positioned very wide and drove attention onto himself, so the lower flank zones got more open as Napoli’s team got stretched vertically.

In the pictures above we can see two different moments of the game that complete one whole idea of Liverpool’s team. The high and wide positioning of Jones made it possible for Tsimikas to break open in lower zones of the pitch as it highly affected the opponents’ vertical compactness.

He pulled himself to the flanks time and again in order to 1. provide his team with a vertical passing option down the outer corridor and 2. stretch the opponents vertically and lure their focus onto him so his teammates could have more space for themselves.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
The most used motion Jones repeated during the game was the movement from the inner corridor out to the flank.

The impact of offensive midfielders for the hosts hasn’t only been limited to what their number 17 was doing, as Milner also played a huge part in allowing fast progression and provided a half-space option for the team. The initial setup of the two was commonly in the half-spaces and their motions depended on Firmino’s roaming – his dropping usually meant for Jones or Milner to empty the inner corridor and go for a run in various different directions.

Also, they provided their team with in-depth runs and numerical superiorities on the flanks which were very lucrative in terms of getting to chance creation. In the pictures below, we can see two examples, one of which clearly shows the initial positioning of the two Englishmen in Liverpool’s midfield and their intention to attack depth through the half-spaces, and the second one portrays their engagement on the flanks in creating numerical superiority.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
Jones and Milner positioned in the gaps between the lines going for supportive in-depth runs: Milner with a run-in on the ball side which will enable different options for Salah, and Jones with a far-side run that will possibly bring him into goal-scoring position.
UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
The two midfielders helped create numerical superiorities on the flanks, with Firmino trying to attack depth from the lower zone as he dropped and forced them to go wider.

Although Liverpool didn’t directly score out of these settings, they were their main mechanisms for trying to win the game against Spalleti’s men. They brought them into a lot of dangerous positions and set the tone of the game for the biggest part of it.

Napoli’s improvising

Since their main offensive patterns were mostly neutralized, Napoli Needed to go with a plan B solution, which was individually oriented. They wanted to exploit the fact that Liverpool is familiar with pressing high and positioning their defensive line very close to the halfway line, so they openly called them to press in the first third of Napoli’s action, so that the wider space could be open for Osimhen to exploit due to his pace.

The setup was simple – notice the open situation for the Nigerian to benefit from and send the pass towards him as quickly as possible. The goal was for him to win the races against his closest opponents in the large spaces since he has the physical capabilities of doing so.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
Passes to Osimhen were sent from the flanks…
UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
…and from the central areas of the pitch…
UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
…as soon as it was perceived that he has enough space and time for himself in his own contexts on top of the formation.

Osimhen was constantly put in these races as it was probably the best solution left for Napoli to try since their central progression was shut down. Anyhow, they didn’t supply him with the needed support so he was left on his own to try and improvise once he secured possession.

On rare occasions, the perimeter around the Nigerian was properly supported, so he got the chance to play the first-touch link-up passes that will open up the main threatening option for them – a quick pass to the flanks where Kvaratskhelia and Politano were waiting for isolations.

UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Liverpool vs Napoli - tactical analysis tactics
Here we can see the progression path that Napoli used when the second balls falling down from Osimhen were picked up by his teammates. The initial idea was to send the ball towards the striker, then he’d set the ball for the midfielders, who’ll then pass the ball to the flank where the 1v1 was happening and they could have the best possible setup for them to endanger the opponent.

Napoli got themselves into promising situations, but they didn’t have all the manpower they needed so their chance exploitation wasn’t on top level because of the context they created themselves. Also, they had their moments, but the quality of the individual performances of the key attackers in their team was a bit off and that’s why they left England empty-handed.


This tactical analysis has shown how Klopp cleverly neutralized one of the most potent attacking sides in Europe by cancelling their main engine in the midfield, embodied in Stanislav Lobotka. Liverpool’s defensive structure was really compact and properly oriented, which allowed them to force their opponents to give up on their initial tactics and start pursuing alternatives in order to get the best out of the bad situation.

Even though the two-goal win wasn’t enough for the Reds to finish on top of their group, and Napoli ended up victorious when approaching the bigger picture, the home team has delivered a very interesting approach, which suggests that they might be coming back to the right track and that they’ll most certainly be a tough cookie for every opponent in the knockout phase. As they are coming from the second-place spot and are going to play against some of the group winners, we can expect a possible mega-duel right away in the round of 16.