A look at Napoli’s Electric Pressing Game

napoliNapoli love to take the game to the opposition. Under Maurizio Sarri, they play high-octane football. It’s full of pressing, possession play and inventive, intelligent work in the final third, and when it all comes together, as it did in their recent league match against Benevento, it’s simply brilliant to watch.

The Partenopei easily accounted for Benevento, seeing off their Serie A rivals by a tidy a 2-0 scoreline, and one of the key features of the performance was their pressing. Of course, the possession play and creativity on the ball were also there, but Sarri asked his players to press in order to lay a foundation for that attacking game.

Now, when it came to Napoli’s pressing, there were a couple of important factors to consider. Firstly, everyone joined in. The front three of Jose Callejon (right-wing), Dries Mertens (centre-forward) and Lorenzo Insigne (left-wing), kicked things off by charging towards the opposition backline, and Marek Hamsik, Allan and deep-lying playmaker Jorginho followed suit in midfield. Throw in the high defensive line employed by Napoli’s defensive quartet, not to mention the fierce but sensibly-deployed closing down in the fullback positions, and they were never going to allow Benevento to play out with ease.

As well as that, it’s also worth noting how the Neapolitan side used their attacking positions as a starting point for their press. Whenever Sarri’s men strolled forward, they did so in numbers. Naturally enough, the attacking triumvirate were always going to be high up, but with the attack-minded central midfield stylings of Hamsik and Allan, both of whom possess the engines to get up and down the pitch quickly, it wasn’t uncommon to see five guys approaching the edge of the area. Even Jorginho, the deepest of Napoli’s central midfielders, took up a pretty high position for someone who plays in the nominal defensive midfield slot, so to say that Napoli’s midfield and attack were more advanced than usual is something of an understatement.

That, of course, lends itself to pressing, as when Napoli lost the ball in attack, the club’s players were already sitting in advanced positions. That meant they weren’t having to run as far to get in the faces of the Benevento backline when they were trying to clear the danger, and because of this, Napoli forced a large number of turnovers and rushed clearances.

For one such example, it makes sense to look back to the 25th minute of the match. After a Napoli move broke down inside the area, they won the ball back twice in quick succession. Initially, they regained possession on the edge of the area, but when a quick passing chain broke down, Benevento had the chance to break. They tried to do so, but when Jorginho covered off any passing lanes, and Insigne folded back into midfield to cover for his more advanced teammates, it was looking tricky for them. Hamsik eventually picked off a terrible crossfield ball, and within the space of a few seconds, Napoli had passed their way into the area. The attack ended in Mertens firing a volley at goal, but Benevento goalkeeper Christian Puggioni did enough to deflect it over the crossbar.

Nonetheless, this attack highlighted the way Napoli wanted to go about it. They wanted to push players up in attack, have them press quickly in the case of a turnover and then attack again. The other benefit of pressing after losing possession, especially in the manner that Napoli apply the tactic, is that it allows for players in close proximity to then link up in transition. The move described above was a brilliant example of this, and when the Neapolitans scored their second goal of the game, they put together something similar.

Here, after building up from the back, Insigne whipped in a cross. It looked like Benevento had it covered, but when the ball fell to Lorenzo Venuti on the edge of the area, his heavy touch made things awkward. Allan, who was positioned in an advanced area to begin with, broke forward with customary vigour to pounce upon the loose ball, and after a quick pass to the right-sided Callejon, a goal was on. The Spaniard then did his bit, feeding the attack-minded Hamsik with a clever square ball, and he happily tapped in from close range.

That’s Napoli’s pressing game at its best. Not only does it enable them to win the ball back, but it acts as a chance generator too. They can move quickly, up against an unsuspecting and unset defence, and use their advanced positioning to transition swiftly from defence to attack. They did it beautifully on this occasion, combining both efficiency on and off the ball, to elegantly put the game beyond their opposition.

With this sort of quality, it’s no wonder that Napoli currently top the Serie A table, and though there’s still a long way to go, they’ll be hoping this kind of football enables them to be in that exact same position come season’s end. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but either way, they’ll be an exhilarating force in the league.

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