Tuesday December 10 2013
Minus Marek’s magic

With the absence of midfield director Marek Hamsik for the Champions League game against Arsenal, Dave Taylor feels Napoli Coach Rafa Benitez needs to change his system.

On a wall outside the Cimitero del Pianto, the graveyard in West Naples, where the great Neapolitan comedian Toto is buried, there is a famous legend written in the Neapolitan dialect. Perhaps with the funny man in mind, fans daubed a simple and direct message to the cemetery’s inhabitants after Diego Maradona led Napoli into the European Cup for first time in 1987. It reads: Boys you don’t know what you are missing.

Over two and half decades later fans may want to write a similar memo if their latest Argentine hero, Gonzalo Higuain, can lead them just that bit further into Europe. But it won’t be easy in their final do or die Champions League group game this Wednesday.

The hosts need to win by three clear goals, but, thankfully, Pipita has re-found his shooting boots as has Goran Pandev. After they buried Lazio with a deadly triple and an assist each in the 4-2 win, last Saturday the pair put the Death Grip on Udinese with two goals and an assist. However, it was to no avail as they were let down by their midfield, defence and boss, who by keeping four forwards on the pitch when the midfield was being overrun, committed suicide.

This lack of direction from the bench and in midfield seems to have coincided with Marek Hamsik’s form falling away. In Coach Rafa Benitez’s 4-2-3-1, the central attacking midfielder really needs to be dominant. He needs to be directing the flow of the game, linking the various departments but the Slovak is simply not doing that. Not that he need shoulder all the blame as the midfield as a whole needs to be more responsive, faster and more compact.

The defeats by Borussia Dortmund, Parma and Juve, along with the Udinese draw, have shown that the 4-2-3-1 isn’t working as well as it could, should or would be. Consequently the wingers find themselves with extra pressure which also puts additional demands on the two central midfielders, who find that they cannot take up the slack.

Now, especially in the light of his injury, the structural problems and the lack of success of anyone in Marekiaro’s role, Benitez needs to reinvent the midfield and introduce a second system. He showed he can adapt when he introduced a 4-4-2 in the win over Lazio, but even then the defence was vulnerable.In the last four League games Napoli have conceded nine goals plus the five against Marseille and Borussia

Perhaps then with a 4-3-3, where the attacking central midfielder is taken out of the equation, the extra man can offer more defensive protection for the back four. Despite his obvious talent Blerim Dzemaili struggles as one of the ‘double sixes’ in a 4-2-3-1. Why not play him, Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler side by side in the middle, fronted by three of Lorenzo Insigne/Pandev, Higuain and Jose Callejon/Dries Mertens?

Or perhaps drop Dzemaili or Behrami altogether and slot defender Raul Albiol into the midfield, he has played that role before with Real Madrid and would add an extra protective pillar. This would also allow the experience of Paolo Cannavaro to be used in defence, after all last season he and Miguel Britos were rock solid together.

Certainly using the 4-3-3 every game would not be practical, but what it will do against Arsenal is offer an alternative and could just surprise them. And certainly switching to it would bring in an extra midfielder and give the wingers more of a chance to do less defensive work. This would hopefully allow them to do what they should be doing – creating chances for Higuain. Certainly 26 seasons after that first European adventure, Napoli fans do not want their team to play in the graveyard shift of the Europa League.

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Have your say...
Does anyone know how Juve are doing in the Champs League??
on the 11th December, 2013 at 3:37pm
Napoli should go back to 352 to dominate the midfield and help out defensively when we lose the ball. The players are there but Benitez is stubborn!
on the 10th December, 2013 at 10:04pm
Also, Pandev offers ABSOLUTELY NO DEFENSIVE cover from the CAM spot. His offensive offerings are obvious, but it leaves an enormous gap that needs to be filled by only 2 mids. This is completely unrealistic to expect 2 players to pick up all this slack. Hamsik ads that 3rd body in the midfield, and when hes missing its completely obvious.
on the 10th December, 2013 at 7:30pm
Good article. The weakest area for Napoli this year is the midfield. Dzemaili and Barahmi are decent enough players, but they are not players that will take you far in Champions League or win Serie A. Inler is the only class CM on the squad. To make up for this it would make sense that Napoli run a 3 man midfield. The dual pivot is just not working and lacks a lot of balance with this current squad. The wingers track back, but all they are is bodies to get in the way with no real defensive trait
on the 10th December, 2013 at 7:27pm
Mustafaaa Napoli were chasing the game against Dortmund as they were 1 down to a dubious pen hence them being more open.

If you reread Daves article he shows that Benitez has made tweaks and he was too attacking trying to win the game 4-2 than see it off at the wknd. This season Napoli haven't had many draws and 1 win is better than two draws. Just to add I don't think Napoli stand a chance winning by 3 against Arsenal the best they could happen is a Marseille get something at home
on the 10th December, 2013 at 6:44pm
I think the major problem is wingbacks playing as fullbacks. It is messing the shape up and although Mesto isnt rated highly it was no surprise he performed really well as a fullback the loss of him and Zuniga should not be underestimated. I like Maggio and he is adjusting but Armero has really struggled and although Zuniga is napoli's best wingback that is exactly what he is the Arsenal game highlighted that but he has enough nouse to master that role.
on the 10th December, 2013 at 6:34pm
I agree with David & have been saying the same thing for a while now. Napoli are bit top heavy & lack balance. With the current squad & not-so-great-defence. I think that it would be wise switching to a 433 or 4321. That extra central midfielder would make things a bit more solid & give the team more control. Arsenal could dominate possession & fully exploit the spaces which Rafa's 4231 leaves open. Should be a good game & I hope that Napoli can pull it off.
on the 10th December, 2013 at 2:14pm
Good one, I agree with that but I Think Albiol is playing great where he is and he isn't fast enough any more to play in the mid field. I also hope we can pick up one more creative attacking player who can help when Marek, Gonzalo and pandev are either hurt or out of form and need a break. Britos can be better than what he is but our wing backs aren't top quality defensively we also need some one better than Britos tho
on the 10th December, 2013 at 1:13pm
Changing the system is not gonna make much more difference. He needs to adapt new things as he trains an Italian team. He was the reason Napoli lost in Dortmund. He needs to consider some Italian strategies especially when possession is not his. To mention one simple thing, doubling up. Napoli easily concedes from the flanks, and I hope he realized that Reus and Blaszczykowski made him lose the match there. But I know it, he so stubborn he won't change anything and risk it all.
on the 10th December, 2013 at 1:03pm

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