Napoli 1-0 Inter: Ranieri tinkering fails to inspire
Claudio Ranieri's tenure as Inter Milan's Coach seems to be drawing to an end as the Nerazzurri fell to its fifth loss in its last six Serie A games. Ironically, if Sunday's game at the Stadio San Paolo were to be his last his tenure would have ended the same way his predecessor's did, with a three-man defence. The former Roma man deployed a Gasperini-esque backline (in the second half) in an attempt to counter Walter Mazzarri's tactics but did so to no avail as the Azzurri had an answer to all Inter's questions.
Napoli dominate early on
From minute one it was apparent that the former Roma man tactics were less superior to his counterpart's. His starting shape (4-3-1-2) was nullified by Napoli's 3-4-2-1. The home team's three man defense made light work of the visitor's front two as they always had a spare man. Wesley Sneijder was watched closely by one of the two central midfielders and Yuto Nagatomo, Inter's main attacking threat on the flanks was occupied by an advanced Christian Maggio (more on this later).
Both teams struggled to get into rhythm early on but Naples’ unit were the first to settle. Through the intelligent use of the ball by deep lying playmaker Gokhan Inler Mazzari's men took advantage of their deep and narrow opposition. They worked the ball into wide areas and back inside as they attempted to stretch the backline and create chances. Maggio was the main target of outlet passes in the build up and his team mates did well to play him in early thus isolating Nagatomo. This constant threat down Inter's left flank meant that the former Cesena player was forced to play a more conservative role than usual.
Inter switch to 3-5-2
The “Tinker Man” responded to Napoli's dominance by tinkering with his team's shape at the beginning of the second half. He withdrew the out of form Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan and brought on Ivan Cordoba and Giampaolo Pazzini as their replacements. Cordoba joined the two starting central defenders and the full backs were pushed higher up the pitch. This move liberated Nagatomo and gave the San Siro based club some much needed width going forward. The Japenese international no longer had to worry about Maggio exploiting the space he left behind when he made his forays forward as he was now better covered. Ranieri's adjustments seemed to be paying off as the Nerazzurri became more of an attacking threat.
Napoli’s Counter Attacking Prowess
Known for their counter attacking play Napoli adjusted well to Inter's new system. The defenders and deep lying midfielders were instructed to absorb the Nerazzurri's attack while the attacking trio led the counter when the ball was won. In the attacking phase, the visitors left four players (the back three plus Stankovic in front of them) to deal with Ezequiel Lavezzi, Blerim Dzemaili and Edinson Cavani. They matched up in this area of the pitch similarly as did Napoli's back three (+1) versus Inter's front three in the first half. Mazzarri’s men, however, were more efficient in executing their attacks in this situation than their opposition and the reason for this were:
(1) The Azzurri's attacking three interplay was slick and fluid whilst the Nerazzurri's was stagnant and lacked chemistry.
(2) Napoli's back three (+1) closed their opponents down well, marked tightly and won their tackles while Inter's unit was always second to the ball and afforded attackers large amounts of time and space.
Lavezzi’s game winner in the 59th minute came from one of these quick, well executed attacks.
A good, old Serie A tactical battle where each team adjusted well to their opposition’s alterations was one by the better team on the night. Water Mazzarri had the better tactics at the start of the game and dominated but did not have the goals to show. Claudio Ranieri made the necessary adjustments but his misfiring attack and more attacking formation played right into Napoli’s hands.