Napoli’s Game Organisation

Napoli’s Game Organisation

fig. 1 – The first XI of the team the and main players’ movements

In his debut post for Holding Midfield, Petr Chulkov presents to you the inner mechanisms and key principles of, the team currently runner-up in Serie A, Napoli’s game organisation in detail.


Napoli play a highly offensive formation 3-4-2-1 with wing-backs focusing on attack and covering the whole flank; a pair of holding midfielders with different functions and often positioned vertically (Michele Pazienza acts like the sweeper of the midfield); a set of high fluid forwards (two wingers , who may swap flanks; and one striker).

Defensive actions

1. Mechanism of pressing

Napoli are prone to make defensive transitions higher up the field – trying to get the ball back as soon as it is lost in attack.

The main role when pressing is granted to Walter Gargano. He is positioned at the back of the attack and, as the ball is lost, he moves forward to take part in winning back the ball together with the near attacking players.

In case the opponent overcomes the pressing, the main function of breaking or slowing down the rival’s attack is granted to Pazienza he prefers to start tackling after the centre circle, accompanying the opponent and waiting for Gargano to get back.

2. Defensive organisation in their own half

Firstly, when the attacks of the opponent are built from the goal, Napoli’s three forwards are positioned high against the opponent’s defence and try to close down the wide space in front of the half-way line, while the three centre backs are positioned rather high up the field, not spreading too wide.

fig. 2 – Here is the players movement for when the opponent’s attack develops on the left side of the defence (the covered zone are reflected)

In their own half, the team begins to press the opponent with Gargano and Pazienza in the zone behind the centre circle. As there is a strong shield in the centre two midfielders and three centre backs behind (placed rather up in the field) – the majority of the opponent’s attacks naturally are turned to the flanks, where Napoli try to cover with plenty of players.  The wing-backs come back while Pazienza double ups on the opponent’s player on the flank. Gargano usually stays in the central zone above the box in case an opponent runs from deep. The respective centre back closes the deep runners on the flank, providing plenty of cover in defence.

The two back in the centre close down the attacking players (two forwards or forward and attacking midfielder) of the opponent’s team in the central zone. The wing-back of the opposite flank is practically positioned in line with two backs in centre. So they (the three centre backs and wing-back from the opposite flank) act like a four man defence.

3. Gaps in defensive line:

a) The open space on the flank behind the line of defenders playing long balls quickly is dangerous for the team.

b) Wing-backs close down the opposition’s wide midfielders, but as a result the full-backs of the rival usually have space and time as the wingers don’t usually track back, especially Ezequiel Lavezzi on the left flank.

Finally, a little observation in addition: it’s worth mentioning that Edinson Cavani sometimes drops deep to the zone of the ball which helps the defensive forces of the team when the opposition are in possession.

Offensive actions

1. Core offensive actions.

In attack, the team focuses on fast transition to attack using preferably long or medium diagonal or direct passes.

Target zones for the ball delivering are zones of wing-backs, near the corner of the box.

The key movement to create this space on the flanks is:

  • The wingers moving centrally, narrowing the opposition’s defence (the full-back of the opposition’s team is by the winger) and then build the strong fist in the core zone of the defense in the box.
  • The wing-backs move quickly high up the field as the team win possession of the ball – they try to be positioned higher than the opponent’s wingers – and provide width in attack.
  • Gargano moves forward to bind the opponent’s holding midfielder and provide support to attacking players of the team – additional angle of pass.
Fig. 3 – Main movement and pass direction for core offensive actions

The central defenders and Gargano decide the direction of the attack as most of the passes to the attack are done by them. The centre-backs usually dribble to the centre circle then make the pass, while Pazienza drops back to cover the free zone of the advancing centre back. Preferably the passes are directed to left flank.

The main threat in the final stage of offensive action are crosses into the box from the wing-backs, usually directed to the centre of the box  where  Cavani runs, while the wingers run to their corresponding posts if possible.

The alternative option if the zones are closed on the flank is the winger moving to the flank as the respective wing-back get the ball. In most cases it leads to overmanning on the flank and interaction in coalition (winger, wing-back and Gargano) to get the ball into the box.

2.  Alternative options in offensive transition.

In case of the opponent press the centre backs of Napoli, making it difficult for them to run to the centre of the field or pass the ball to the holding midfielders, the wingers drift deep to get the ball, Lavezzi usually runs to the flank while Hamsik moves more centrally.

fig. 4 – Alternative options in offensive formation.

Due to different playing behavior of the wingers:

Lavezzi often dribbles from the flank to the centre; in this case Cavani may run down the field and create the space for Lavezzi in front.

Hamsik focuses more on giving passes. There are two possible options: to provide the ball to wing-back who overlap into the free zone (if the movement of Hamsik draws the full-back out of the position) or through Gargano.

3. Long balls to Lavezzi as type of counter attack.

Lavezzi often doesn’t take part in defensive actions; he takes the position on the flank in the opponent’s part of the field. Napoli counter-attack by passing the ball to him in order to use his pace and dribbling ability. It’s can often be seen when the goalkeeper brings the ball back into the game quickly.

You can follow Petr on Twitter or read more from him on his blog A Little Bit About Tactics.

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