Prior to Gattuso's arrival, Napoli were in disarray which led to the previous manager Carlo Ancelotti being sacked. Under Ancelotti Napoli were far to open as he used a 442 formation. Under Gattuso Napoli reverted back to a formation more familiar to them the 433 used under previous manager Sari with his famous Sarriball philosophy. Results continued to slump initially with the side only recording one victory in five league games before the Juventus game, During that time Napoli also advanced to the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia,
Under Gattuso Napoli have placed more emphasis on ball retention, Napoli consolidates possession in their own third whenever possible with the aim of making the opposition commit more players towards them before playing out of defence patiently and risk-free by dropping their own midfield whilst also not being afraid of passing backwards.
Napoli rarely deviates from this short build-up and are uncompromising in their insistence to exploit the newly introduced rule which allows teams in possession the ability to receive the ball in the box directly from a goal kick. The image above shows how this can look in-game with Juventus committing more players in their press which allows the ball to be slowly moved up the field.
Gattuso displayed tactical nous in exposing a system failure in an approach used notably by Atalanta and Hellas Verona, They caused Verona to simultaneously overcommit insofar as four central players dedicated to preventing short distribution while exposing their under-commitment, as Ospina’s involvement meant they lacked the men required to achieve the numerical parity desired for man orientation. Napoli showed high levels of proficiency in their manipulation of Verona’s positioning and succeeded in consolidating possession and creating space. This allows them to use circuit plays such as the drag and rotation pattern as well as acting as an outlet. If the opponent does not react to the bait, Napoli can then consolidate possession and gain territory by progressing up the pitch slowly in a risk-averse manner.
The passing stats and fouls against help to further highlight how I was able to capture this aspect of how Napoli play out of defence as an effective space creation tool.
Another key element of how Napoli play, particularly against stronger sides, is their solid 4-5-1 structure out of possession. Their aim is to protect space and make themselves difficult to play through, therefore Napoli rarely pressures the opponent’s centre backs.
Napoli protects the central areas remaining compact to reduce the amount of space their players have to cover horizontally. Like most teams who play a compact mid-block, Napoli shuttle from side to side, making their pressing efforts ball-oriented as they target the side of the pitch that the ball is shifted to.
For Napoli to remain compact centrally, they vacate the opposite flank. This increases their susceptibility to a quick switch of play, but it also helps their pressing efforts and protects space in central areas. Through protecting central areas, they force the opponent to play in the wider areas, where they can more effectively press them. This prevents effective transitions from Napoli’s perspective, as they can force a backwards pass to the centre back.
Napoli can then re-group centrally and begin the process again until the opponent gets frustrated and tries an alternative strategy.
Recreating Gattuso's Tactic
Under Gattuso Napoli play a 4-3-3 using a single pivot which Demme was signed from RB Leipzig to fulfil, allowing Zielinski and Fabian to play further forward.
In possession to mimic and replicate the risk-free possession style, I am instructing the team to play out of defence with the back four along with the keeper all instructed to use simple passes. Without these instructions, players would be more likely to hit more long passes or clear the ball. Playing slightly more narrow also helps to keep players closer to the ball promoting ball retention along with the much lower tempo and shorter passes. Work ball into box helps to replicate the cutback goals scored in real life.
In transition, the team will regroup back into a structured shape helping to recreate the 4-5-1 shape. When the ball is won the team will counter as Napoli like to draw opponents wingbacks out allowing space for their wingers to run into before providing a cut back to score.
Without the ball Napoli defends the middle so I have set the defensive width to show the opponents to the wide areas, also standard lines of engagement and defensive lines are used to create that compact midblock.
The video below shows a greater illustration of how the tactic looks and performs in-game.
Fantastic results winning the league comfortably with a rock-solid defence!
If anybody has any suggested tactics they'd like to see recreated please feel free to let me know.