Sempre! Tactical Analysis: Is Napoli’s Future in the 4-4-2?

One of the many excellent points made on the recent Sempre! podcast was James’ thought that Ancelotti has not found his preferred XI or formation yet. In the doom and gloom of the fallout from the 3-0 drubbing, I’d like to suggest that over the past two games there have been 90 minutes of excellent play (in the two second halves) and the future of this Napoli team could be… 4-4-2.

Many people see 4-4-2 (and its near variants) as a formation from a bygone era of wingers, central midfield partnerships and wing backs that scored one goal every three seasons. Over the past two matches, I would say that Mister Ancelotti proved the world wrong in this respect and his switch to this system in the second halves of the Sampdoria and Milan game were the catalyst behind our improved performances. Might this formation be the key to Napoli’s season? A week ago I would have raised an Ancelotti eyebrow at this notion but now… I think it could be a key factor in our success this season.

Attack. Attack. Attack.

The 4-4-1-1 setup that won us the watch against Milan provided a simple and direct way of creating attacking movements that could either pass through midfield or bypass it entirely. Out wide, we have an abundance of talent and Insigne and Callejon can operate out there in their sleep. The second half of the Sampdoria match illustrated this with Ounas shining and Zielinski doing a solid job on the left. Don’t forget we have Younes and Verdi, too.

I’ve particularly enjoyed Mertens’ part in the tactical switches – being the classic man behind the striker and scoring the winner against Milan and going close twice against Samp. Fans of the English Premier League will remember fondly the heady days of this role in this formation in the 1990’s – Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola all lighting up the most enjoyable era of the English game. Mertens was cunning in his position in this role and his goal against Milan was a case in point – he emerged from a non-traditional striking position to put the ball away. Again, our squad have players who can play there – Verdi, Hamsik, Zielinski and perhaps Fabian can all make this work.

A Defensive Solution?

What was most surprising about this formation was how solid it made us look. Against Milan, Mertens’ goal came in the 80th minute and the remainder of the match passed with a very solid display. Although we conceded in the second half against Samp, this was to a Golazzo and we look much more confident in our defensive shape during these 45 minutes. Perhaps the clearer roles within the system enabled this? The three CM’s in Ancelotti’s previous systems have all resulted in fluid, swapped roles but this has repeatedly led to our midfielders being out of position. In the 4-4-1-1 – one needs to be much more disciplined and we saw Zielinksi-Allan, Allan-Diawara and Allan-Rog being prime examples of this in the two most recent matches. This clearer situation in front of the defence appeared to give the whole team confidence. Having said this, the central midfield still managed to be creative: a case in point being in the Milan match – Allan’s wonderful assist for Mertens began with a peach of a pass from Diawara.

How to solve a problem like Hamsik

This system could enable what I’ve been hungry for since Ancelotti took over: a system to accommodate both Hamsik and Diawara. Put Marek back to what he does best – scoring goals and bursting into the box just behind the striker. Ancelotti could rotate between him and Mertens to manage their game time (both being in their 30’s) and choose between Allan, Diawara, Fabian, Rog and Zielinski for the two CM slots.

Conclusion: back to the 90’s!

My footballing passions emerged from the football played in the 1990’s in Italy, as well as in the UK and something about the Milan game brought back some great feelings. I like my Calcio to have guile but to also have pace and a physicality. I say give the 4-4-2 a go and let’s enjoy some retro entertainment this season! Where’s my MegaDrive?

By Frank Sidekick

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