Date : 30/11/2015
Venue : Stadio San Paolo
Competition : Serie A 2015/2016, Matchday 14

The starting line-ups:
Internazionale vs Napoli - Football tactics and formations

Roberto Mancini chose once again in a match against another title contender to field a team with a defensive line that included Danilo D’Ambrosio( who was focused on not letting Insigne have a lot of time or space on the ball, moving accordingly towards him when needed) and Yuto Nagatomo, with Miranda and Murillo between them and in front of Samir Handanovic. The midfield three consisted of Marcelo Brozovic, Freddy Guarin and Gary Medel. The Chilean was not positioned in his usual place, between the lines of defense and midfield, but was placed some meters in front of this space creating a line with Brozovic and Guarin in order to press better and cut passing lanes behind them. Perisic and Ljajic were constantly changing sides, playing on the wings, with Icardi in the middle as the lone striker.

Maurizio Sarri, in contrast with Mancini who is always fielding a new combination of players, started once again with his favourite eleven until now. Reina was under the posts, behind a defensive line of four consisting of Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Koulibaly and Ghoulam (from right to left. Jorginho was the defensive midfielder with Hamsik and Allan as CMs. Higuain was the tip of the offense, with Insigne on his left and Callejon on his right.
Both teams had their FBs go high up the pitch when the ball was on their side, with other FB staying behind creating a three-man defense.

Both Napoli and Inter, also, had one of their wingers (Ljajic and Insigne) moving inside and between the lines with that sides full back (Nagatomo and Ghoulam) providing the attacking width.

In the images above you can see the wingers (yellow circles), moving inside as “number 10s” leaving their FBs (red circles) on the wings providing the width.

Higuain scores from the start

Whichever may have been Mancini’s plan A, it was immediately thrown to the bin as Higuain scored just after 64 seconds, taking advantage of a bad Murillo kick.

Inter defended some metres above the centre of the pitch, initiating their pressing mostly when the ball returned back to the Napoli defender’s. They also created a very compact shape in the centre of the field, forcing Napoli to play through the wings (see image below).

Inter’s pressing mistakes

This match proved, for yet another time, that the Inter players need more time to work on their pressing in order to reach a level where they can create dangerous situations for the opponent and even score goals (like for example, teams such as Fiorentina, Napoli and Sassuolo do).

Although these mistakes wouldn’t have resulted in anything negative for the nerazzurri against teams with lesser quality, in this game the opponent was a team that has the ability to take advantage of your smallest mistakes and make you pay but didn’t take advantage of any of those.

Let’s take a look at three examples :

In the above image you can see Icardi covering the passing lane to Koulibaly with his shadow (yellow triangle), instead of prioritizing cutting the passing option to the centre of the field where Jorginho was( red arrow indicates the movement the Argentinian should have made). Jorginho, consequently after receiving the ball, had the time and space to create and move the ball fast upwards.

Here, Guarin initiates his pressing run before the ball leaves Koulibaly’s feet, making life easier for the Napoli defender who had a passing lane open to Insigne between the lines. The Colombian instead should have stood behind covering the passing lane to Insigne with his shadow, starting his pressing run to Hamsik, only after Koulibaly’s pass to him.

Ljajic stops his pressing run, after the ball left Koulibaly’s feet, leaving Jorginho alone in the centre of the field.

Napoli on the other side was much consistent when pressing.

They tried to force Inter, after playing short on their goal kicks or when a centre back received the ball in general, to move the ball on the wing where they initiated their pressing trap (with Nagatomo being the loser of this situation as his team played primarily from his side and there was no obvious help by Ljajic or even Icardi).

The purple arrow indicates Callejon’s run direction, who pressed Murillo forcing him to pass to Nagatomo. You can also notice that the existing near passing options are cut by the Neapolitans.

Nagatomo receives a red card and the second half

Things got much worse for Inter though, when Nagatomo received a second yellow card just before the end of the first half, leaving his team with ten players.

With Icardi getting dominated by Albiol and Koulibaly on the air, not being able to help by holding up the ball for his upcoming teammates on counterattacks, he seemed the most suitable candidate for leaving the field for Alex Telles to come in (instead of Ljajic, for example, who was by far the best holder and dribbler of the ball for his team).

Inter’s 10-man shape, on offense, now looked like this :

In the second half, the nerazzurri initiated their pressing when Jorginho received the ball with his back at Inter’s goal. Ljajic was also left alone in pressing the two CBs, in order to not allow them time and space for long balls behind Inter’s defence, while the rest of the team was getting into an organized shape.

Inter’s disadvantage, having 1 man less, created a lot of problems, as now there was no player to either cover the space between the lines or cover passing lanes directed to that area.

The yellow area, indicates the huge space created between Inter’s lines for Napoli to take advantage of, resulting from the defensive line not moving higher up the field when the midfield line did.

On attack , Inter players played with very small distances between them in order to combine better, on the opponents offensive third, conceding that way the idea of stretching the opposition by giving width.

Short build-ups, starting from Handanovic, was something that almost never occurred during the second half, as Inter, probably in order to avoid the opponent’s high pressing, kicked the ball long on goal kicks with Perisic usually being the target.

Higuain makes it 2-0

Higuain made it 2-0 after a Raul Albiol header-pass from Handanovic’s goal kick found the Argentinian running with space behind the defence.

After the second goal, Napoli relaxed their pressing and seemed like they lacked the intensity they had until then.
This relaxation resulted in Ljajic making it 2-1 after a very bad touch of the ball by Ghoulam.

Inter brought Biabiany in (replacing Guarin), who moved much more freely than usual and even in central spaces. The Frenchman, although unable to make the difference on offense, gave a lot of help with his returns on defence.
Jovetic was also brought in, replacing Perisic. The Montenegrin was now playing centrally, with Ljajic on the left. The three of those trying to create triangles on the wings in order to break the opposition defense.

Sarri on the other side replaced Insigne( who had lost his concentration on defense on many occasions during the match and sometimes was late tracking back) with El Kaddouri’s fresh feet. Maggio, also, replaced Callejon in order to give more defensive help on the wing that Inter was stronger, for the last 7 minutes.


Inter leaves this game behind with a very bittersweet feeling. Although they lost, the nerazzurri proved that (even with ten men) they are good enough to compete with the strongest teams in the league, conceding two goals by the best striker in the Italian peninsula and one of the best in the world at the moment. Finally, Ljajic was again fantastic, making everything happen for the Inter offense.

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