Carlo Ancelotti explained in detail how Napoli are moving away from Maurizio Sarri’s approach and more towards Atletico Madrid. “How many times do you score after 20 passes?”
As predecessor Maurizio Sarri faces criticism at Chelsea, the Champions League winner explained his own approach to tactics and post-Sarriball.
“I am less rigid now on a tactical level than I was when I started out,” Ancelotti confessed to Il Napolista.
“I remain committed to the principles of organisation, movement off the ball, a high tempo and aggressive defence, but have become more elastic in terms of applying these principles.
“I do think possession is important to control a game, but it has to lead to something. Just look at how the role of the goalkeeper has changed. The statistics say now that the players with the most touches are centre-backs and goalkeepers. That’s not right, in my book. Keeping possession that deep is naturally easier, but it isn’t very effective.
“Do you know how many times a team scores a goal after more than 20 passes? In a year, it might happen twice. You tend to score goals after five or six passes. I think the only time we did it was with Simone Verdi against Torino.
“If there’s the possibility of playing out from the back, that’s good, but if you risk getting stuck back there, it’s better not to bother.”
Atletico Madrid showed how to tear Juventus apart with a 2-0 Champions League victory this week and Ancelotti wants his Napoli to be inspired more by so-called Cholismo than tiki-taka.
“On Wednesday night, how many times did Atletico Madrid play out from the back? I’ll tell you: never. It’s also an issue of quality, as they don’t have defenders or a goalkeeper suited to that type of football, so what can they do? Make the most of the characteristics of the players at their disposal.
“Personally, I think if we continue like this, football will end up banning back-passes to the goalkeeper, even if he doesn’t pick it up with his hands. At times, this sweeper ‘keeper idea is exasperating. It becomes difficult to press the goalkeeper, as you have to get stretched out and leave gaps. If the pressing goes badly that far up the field, you concede a goal.
“It’s happened to us two or three times, so we decided to wait for the opposition to pass it forward a bit more and then start the press. It’s no coincidence that Napoli scored several goals this season by winning back possession with a high press.”
Another former Real Madrid Coach, Fabio Capello, was angry this week when told Atletico Madrid don’t play beautiful football. Does Ancelotti agree?
“Atleti don’t play badly, they force you to play badly. As an opponent, you can’t play the way you’d like. There are many reasons for this, as they are very well-organised, but are also extremely aggressive in every situation. Even with the referee.
“In the opening minute of the Juve match, Atletico players had already surrounded the referee. In my view, that is a planned strategy, because they’ve always done that.
“In fact, once in the Champions League Final against my Real Madrid, they took the lead and started throwing extra balls on to the pitch to interrupt the play.
“They do play better now than they used to, even if it’s based mainly on substance and very little on aesthetics. I do like their football, yes.”
Does that mean Ancelotti wants to mould Napoli in the form of Atletico Madrid?
“I think at the end of the day quality does pay off, but the quality must be supported by many other values that are just as important, such as determination, grit and in certain circumstances hunger, the taking on of responsibility.
“It’s what in Naples you call ‘cazzimma’. I’d like to see that kind of Napoli. If you ask me: ‘Do you prefer to have a team with character or one that plays good football?’ My response is, I prefer a team that plays good football. If you have a team that plays well and has character, then that’s even better.
“I believe a Coach has to seek quality football, then character and a winning mentality grow with time. Sometimes you get players who are a little fragile in terms of character, but if you give them a very clear idea of what they have to do on the pitch with organisation, then they start to get more confident.
“If you send a nervous player out there with few tactical indications, he’s not going to perform.”