UEFA Champions League Tactical Breakdown: Napoli 1-1 Bayern Munich

Ben LoderContributor IOctober 19, 2011

NAPLES, ITALY - OCTOBER 18:  Ezequiel Lavezzi of SSC Napoli takes a tumble during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between SSC Napoli and FC Bayern Muenchen at Stadio San Paolo on October 18, 2011 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

A match that promised a great deal tactically ended in disappointment for football purists as Bayern Munich’s manager Jupp Heynckes and Walter Mazzarri of Napoli both settled for a point at Stadio San Paolo.

From a tactical point of view, Napoli matches always promise an intriguing spectacle. Mazzarri is one of the few managers in Europe regularly employing a three-man defence, and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamšík and Edinson Cavani are one of the most dangerous attacking trios in the world. However, this Champions League group stage clash failed to live up to the billing—Napoli may have scored, but they finished the game without a shot on target.



Napoli (3-4-2-1): de Sanctis – Aronica, P. Cannavaro, Campagnaro – Zúñiga, Inler, Gargano, Maggio – Lavezzi, Hamšík – Cavani

Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Lahm, Badstuber, van Buyten, Boateng – Tymoshchuk, Schweinsteiger – Ribéry, Kroos, Müller – Gomez



Both teams set up with their regular formations—Napoli’s 3-4-2-1 against the 4-2-3-1 of Bayern. Christian Maggio and Juan Zúñiga functioned as wing-backs for the Italians, offering the possibility of overloading the Bayern full-backs, Philipp Lahm and Jérôme Boateng, if Hamšík and Lavezzi could resist their Wanderlust and stay in wide positions.

For their part, Bayern would have hoped Franck Ribéry could control the run of play as he did against Manchester City on the previous match-day, thus simultaneously holding back Maggio and stretching the centre backs to make space for on-form lone frontman Mario Gomez.


First half

Within two minutes, Bayern had taken the lead, central attacking midfielder Toni Kroos left totally alone by both of Napoli’s midfield duo, Gökhan Inler and Walter Gargano, to fire home from inside the box after a simple square ball from the marauding Boateng.

This was not untypical of the first half hour—Napoli needed that long to establish order in the centre of the pitch. Gargano and Inler had tried to push forward onto Bayern's deep-lying “Doppel-Sechs” central-midfield pair of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, but only left space for the likes of Kroos to exploit. Bayern have shown how to hold a lead many times this season, not least against City, and looked set to do the same here. They pressed as a team and looked after possession tidily, though Gomez failed to hold the ball up as he usually does during counter attacks, being constantly hounded by at least two central defenders.



After 35 minutes Napoli started to mimic the Germans’ work ethic, and got their reward soon after. Inler finally managed to set Maggio free with a slick pass into the right-hand channel, and his ball across was turned into his own net by Holger Badstuber. Manuel Neuer could do nothing to prevent the first goal he had conceded in an incredible 1,147 minutes.

Lahm had been caught too central in relation to Kroos for the goal, and Napoli tried the same pass repeatedly in the closing minutes of the first half, but couldn’t quite expose that gap again.


Second half

With no changes in personnel, it looked set to be a question of whether Napoli could get Lavezzi and Hamšík involved with their impressive wing-backs, or Bayern could regain the control of the midfield they had held for most of the first half and work their danger man Ribéry into the match.

Things started well for Bayern in the second half, too. Paolo Cannavaro was penalised for handling in his own box, but Gomez’s weak penalty was easily held by Morgan de Sanctis. Nevertheless, as Schweinsteiger and Tymoshchuk pushed forward, Ribéry did indeed start to see more of the ball, forcing a corner from which Thomas Müller should have put the Bavarians back in front after 55 minutes. Bayern Munich in fact looked like the home team throughout the second period, with Napoli only ever threatening on the break.


However, it soon became clear that a point was enough for both managers. Maggio and Zúñiga often dropped back to form a defensive five rather than causing problems at the other end, whilst Bayern’s patient build-up play was promising—but they didn’t show the guile and ambition that was needed to break down the sturdy Campanian defence, although they clearly possess it.

The attitude of both sides in the second half can be summed up by the fact that the first substitution came in the 80th minute, and the nature of that change. Napoli brought on Blerim Dzemaili—a midfielder—for the club's top scorer last season, Cavani.

This approach was somewhat understandable, with a draw a decent result for both sides on paper. But with Manchester City winning at home to Villarreal, competition for the two qualification spots in Group A is fierce—and with Napoli facing a tough trip to the Allianz Arena in Munich in a fortnight, Walter Mazzarri might end up wishing he had gambled on a home win here.


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