Napoli vs Roma Tactical Analysis: Can’t Beat Spalletti at His Own Game

José Mourinho’s Roma produced one of the most solid performances against the league leaders Napoli this season, however it was not enough. The following tactical analysis will explain how Roma were almost able to secure a point in a tough away fixture at Napoli.

An initial look at both teams’ set-ups will provide the groundwork to take a deeper dive into the tactics employed by both managers. Luciano Spalletti arranged his team in the same 4-3-3 shape he has utilized all season. Mourinho’s men were also in a similar shape to what they have played all year: the 3-4-2-1 or at times 3-4-1-2, depending on what the situation called for with pressing.

Despite conceding a late winner, Mourinho’s set up was the blueprint for the rest of the league in playing against Napoli. While Roma do enjoy playing on the counter and taking advantage of set pieces, what they did last night added a level to that. Instead of sitting in a deep low block, they pressed high up the field and caused issues for the Napoli defense. The reason this was so effective was more about the way Napoli want to play than a lack of quality with dealing with press.

Napoli look to push their full-backs as high up the pitch as possible. Often at time, Mario Rui and Giovanni Di Lorenzo are in more advanced areas then the entire midfield three for Napoli. In addition, the center back pairing for Napoli also push high to make it difficult for opponents to play directly, essentially pinning them in their own half. However, yesterday Roma found success by playing the ball wide and exposing the space behind the full-backs, which was too wide for the center midfielders to cover.

On the other side of it, this high-pressing style that Napoli play is what generates them the bulk of their offense. Looking at the first goal, it is clear that the position Mario Rui takes up is the driving factor in creating the chance. While this space is ripe for exploiting against Napoli, it is important to remember that Napoli are committed to playing this style through the entire 90 minutes. Just because Roma found a way to create chances, does not mean Napoli are content to be passive, especially after scoring an opener.

The Napoli full backs are able to generate so many chances because they create triangular passing options with the winger on the same side and a central midfield player. It is clear to see how Rui was able to play such a simple ball to Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. Roma have eight players behind the ball, but Napoli are so effective at exploiting the space in between the lines. Mario Rui pushes high and Kvaratskhelia drops deep so that they are able to operate in the space between the back three and the wingbacks.

Mario Rui’s positioning allows Napoli to break through Roma’s low defensive block

Similarly, on the second goal Napoli were able to score because Di Lorenzo did the same thing. He pushed high and received the ball more centrally. He was able to pass it forward breaking the Roma defensive lines. The advanced position he takes makes the forward tracking back effectively useless because he is able to advance the ball to a central midfielder before they are able to close the space. This then makes the deeper lying midfielders step up, which allows the forward to have a one-on-one situation with the center back. In this case, Giovanni Simeone was able to turn Chris Smalling and fire the winner into the back of the net.

Di Lorenzo’s advanced central position makes the Roma pressure ineffective leading to the Napoli winner

The reason why Napoli are so effective is because the only way to play against them is to use a heavy pressing high line. Roma did that really well throughout the match, but whenever a team steps as high as they did, they are susceptible to the Napoli attack. Which ultimately gets at why Napoli are so successful, because in order to beat them you have to expose yourself to chances on the other end.

Looking at when Roma were most dangerous, and when they got their goal, the team was pressed high up the field. This chance resulted from high press and Roma excel in the aerial game. Therefore, they pressed high, won the ball, and sent it right in. At the back post, the men were essentially man marked one on one and they were able to shovel the ball across the line.

Roma showed the whole league how to play against Napoli in this match. The only problem for the rest of the teams is that Roma also showed why it is so hard to play against Napoli. By pressing high and challenging Napoli in their own half, teams open themselves up to the very game Napoli want to play.

That is Spalletti’s brilliance. In order to defeat him, you have to open up and allow his team to play the way they want to. Napoli have been unstoppable because no one can beat them at their own game.