Sampdoria 3-0 Napoli: Talking Points
Napoli were beaten 3-0 by an elegant and convincing Sampdoria side tonight in Genoa, and whilst it was not a pleasant game to watch, it certainly provoked some thought among the discomfort. This is not a critique of Ancelotti as a manager, and I did not write this out of pure panic, but it remains to be said that there are some things that just will not sit well in the manager’s office.
Napoli have forgotten how to relax
The cardinal talking point of tonight’s game is the change of speed at which Napoli now operate. Tonight’s game was a lesson that hurrying should not be a game plan, but a plan B. It was difficult to watch the side tonight; too often we played the first ball we saw, and too often Arek Milik saw the ball played into his feet at pace. This quick, channeled style of play suits a false nine rather than a traditional nine, and it became clear that Milik was slightly less technical, and slightly too slow and to play the role Dries Mertens is capable of playing. Napoli needed to wait for the right opportunity to play a cross to Milik, or to spot a bit of space. They waited for neither, and Sampdoria were able to read every time. We played far too quickly, and were unable to control the game as a result. This approach is not inherently wrong, but on such a small pitch, against such a determined side, it did simply did not suit.
Napoli’s defence lacks organisation
Some would argue this has been clear since the win over Lazio, and some would argue we have just been beaten by six good goals; but six goals represents no fluke – something in the defence is just not functioning. When you consider that Ancelotti deployed a defensive line unchanged from last year’s, the common denominator remains the setup, rather than the individuals. It is too far-fetched to suggest Pepe Reina’s leadership was of such importance that he alone would be able to prevent what we witnessed tonight, and the loss of Jorginho simply cannot be mourned from a defensive point of view. What remains? A centre back pairing which was not tight enough, two full backs who were caught sleeping on the counter attack, and visible panic. These observations are difficult to prove, particularly without immediate access to replay, but for those watching the game, this was beyond apparent. Whilst Kalidou Koulibaly impressed at times, he was often caught in strange positions and was relatively wasteful, playing some rogue diagonal passes to players too short to enter a theme park. The lack of tightness might be explained by Jorginho’s departure, but Amadou Diawara was omnipresent, even if poor. Whatever the reason, there are some serious improvements which need to be made – there are some unforgiving opponents around the corner.
Ounas is useful
On a positive note, we saw an incredible performance from Adam Ounas today. It is important to not exhaust this description, but tonight we saw something we have been missing – a player full of grace, willing to take on a defender, and willing to exercise some of the duties that Elseid Hysaj somehow manages to abdicate, be it defensive or offensive. It was a welcome surprise, and from his introduction, we were exceedingly dangerous. Whilst he still has something to learn in the final third, there is very little Jose Callejón can do that Ounas cannot – his only shortfalls remain strength and experience. It would be surprising, but not undeserved, for Ounas to play ninety minutes sooner or later.
Insigne’s role will change
Though it is a challenge to judge a player based on two games, we can analyse only what we are given, and there could be some question marks over Insigne’s role in the squad. Gone are Sarri’s triangular tactics, which focused on Insigne’s side of the pitch, and propelled his importance to the squad. He was constantly on the ball; he was the focal point of the forward line. Ancelotti likes to balance his focus, and we saw a lot more of Verdi in any measure of space tonight than we would have under Maurizio Sarri’s sytem. This, again, is not a criticism of Insigne; it is not a criticism at all. It is a pondering – will Insigne lose importance by seeing so much less of the ball? After all, he will not be seen on the end of crosses, and defences will doubtless set up to make sure he is unable to run in behind as often as possible. I do not doubt that Carlo has a plan, but will it be Insigne-heavy?
Ancelotti knows how to make substitutions
Though one of the bleaker nights he will see in his career, Ancelotti will win praise after he attempted to alter the course of the game by making the half-time changes he needed to make, and most clearly has a capable vision for doing so. Dries Mertens and Adam Ounas made an instant impact on the game, but our inability to finish chances cannot be transferred to being a legitimate criticism of our manager. There are certainly some holistic criticisms that can be made of our squad, but our substitutions were made in intelligent vision, and provide some glimmer of hope that we will never be second best for the whole ninety minutes.