Carlo Ancelotti called the 4-1 demolition of Inter “a demonstration of what Napoli could be next season.” After a year of tinkering, tweaking and development, the Partenopei prototype might finally be ready to launch.
It is tough to place this season in a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ bracket for Napoli. They did get knocked out of the Europa League in the quarter-finals at the hands of Arsenal, but will finish second in the league.
The inability to go far in Europe might lead many to call it a ‘failure’ because the very purpose of having Ancelotti is to start winning on the European stage. But a lot has changed at the Stadio San Paolo ever since Don Carlo stepped in, taking over the reins from Maurizio Sarri.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that Napoli still have the highest amount of average possession in the league. They have had 57 percent of average possession this season, not far off last year’s heights of 60 per cent. But Ancelotti has tried to add his own trademark flavour to a side that likes to play possession football.
It isn’t the Sarri style 4-3-3 anymore. The 4-4-2 shape sees the left-sided midfielder in usually Piotr Zielinski play through the middle more often than playing wide, allowing Mario Rui to make attacking runs forward down the flank.
Lorenzo Insigne has had to play as a forward far more often than last season. Under Sarri, the Italian did cut inside too often for that predictable right-foot curler, but under Ancelotti, Insigne stays inside. After having impressed in that position early on, scoring six times in the first eight games, Insigne has fallen prey to constant injuries that have taken the consistency away. Despite that, he has already bettered his tally from last season.
Sarri did try to experiment by playing Insigne as a trequarista for a brief period early on in his reign, but it didn’t work out too well. It made him play deeper than where he should be. But playing as a second striker, Insigne is closer to goal and is being made to use his best qualities in central area.
Even with a more patient approach under Ancelotti, the Partenopei have registered the most shots on goal, again matching their approach from last season. Sarri’s Napoli picked up 91 points and nearly snatched the title away from Juventus, but it was a lack of Plan B that cost them vital points and the tactician has found the same issue at Chelsea.
Ancelotti’s Napoli know when to go long and when to switch to a normal 4-3-3 mid-game. They can adapt to situations better than they did last season and free themselves of Sarri’s often dogmatic approach to tactics.
They don’t press as much, and when they do, the pressing is more man to man than the zonal approach that Sarri or Arrigo Sacchi favour. When not pressing, Napoli play narrow and force the opposition wide.
It was after the 3-0 defeat to Sampdoria that Ancelotti changed to 4-4-2 and definitively moved on from his predecessor. It isn’t as effective and penetrative as ‘Sarriball’ used to be, but you can clearly see the plan he has in mind for where this team will go. There are uncertainties about the futures of players like Allan, Kalidou Koulibaly and Insigne himself, but there is clear set-up in place for the club to go forward.
Ancelottiis looking at players that could possibly improve the side, with Hirving Lozano one of them. And the Mexican will be an instant upgrade on Jose Callejon. He will bring bundles of pace on that flank and even more so if Kieran Trippier is roped in. Bringing in players like these will add an extra dimension to a team that has the second lowest attacking ability/tendency from the right in Serie A after Lazio.
It’s certainly not the perfect team yet, but Ancelotti has laid the foundations and the crushing 4-1 victory over Inter was a sign of things to come. His know-how of approaching games will go a long way in maturing this team into Scudetto challengers. Now De Laurentiis has to give him what he needs to take Napoli to the next level.