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Napoli's defence as crucial as attack for Walter Mazzarri

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By David Worthington

Thursday 20 October 2011

Napoli have won admirers in Italy and across the footballing world for the strength of their attacking play in recent seasons. The likes of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik have all been linked away from the club in big money moves to European giants such as Milan and Man Utd. However, after earning a solid point against Bayern at the Stadio San Paolo mid-week, the strength of Walter Mazzarri's defensive players proved that they also deserve the attention that the frontline has received.

While the 3-4-1-2 formation that Mazzarri utilises appears to put an emphasis on Napoli's attack, it is the defence that provides the solid foundation which the frontmen can build upon. The modern game has seen the rise of attacking full-backs, and Mazzarri's tactics make good use of this position. Implementing a three man defence allows wing-backs Christian Maggio and Juan Zuniga to have more freedom in attack, as well as turning the backline into a stronger five man guard when defending. Both Zuniga and Maggio had impressive performances against Bayern, the latter providing a cross that resulted in the Bavarian club's Holger Badstuber knocking it into his own goal - gaining a crucial equaliser before the end of the first-half.

Along with the use of wing-backs, the flat back three of Paolo Cannavaro, Hugo Campagnaro and Salvatore Aronica has proven to be a formidable trio for the Partenopei. Local hero Cannavaro made a crucial last-ditch tackle on Franck Ribery to prevent a late goal, and Sicilian centre-back Aronica was an irritant for the Bayern offence. While it may have been untidy defending, it was effective, as the Munich-based side could not manage to add to Toni Kroos' early goal.

Morgan De Sanctis won over critics last season with some crucial saves and the game against Bayern was no exception. The shot-stopper saved a penalty in the second half to keep the Neapolitan side in the game. A great save that kept a Jerome Boateng tap-in out of the back of the net also demonstrated that De Sanctis is just as crucial to Head Coach Mazzarri's gameplan as his attacking trio.

The stats may have revealed that Bayern were the better team on the night, dominating possession, with Napoli failing to even find a single shot on goal – but earning a point against the German side is always a commendable feat. Badstuber's own goal was also the first that the Bavarians have conceded since August in all competition.

Most coaches prefer to apply a more defensive 4-5-1 formation in European contests – smaller teams especially being afraid to take the game to their opponents. However, for Mazzarri, employing the 3-man defence in Europe (the tactic that has been so successful for the Coach in Serie A) has paid dividends. The Partenopei currently sit second in the group at the halfway stage, above free-spending Man City and Champions League regulars Villarreal – a group that many considered to be the competition's group of death. With two home games to come, Napoli are in with a strong shout of qualification, and conceding only two goals in three games tells that all of Mazzarri's men deserve accolades – not just his frontline.

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