Napoli Rewarded for Aggressive Play

From the Touchline

Napoli were in crisis. They had lost midweek in the Coppa Italia to Juventus in a way that left many Napoli faithful and players feeling aggrieved. Results in the league meant they had fallen off challenging Juventus for the scudetto and were barely alive in the title race. And this match meant traveling to Rome to face the Giallorossi who were playing well and positioned themselves as Juventus’ true rival.

Maurizio Sarri decided to eschew a formation change and stuck with his usual 4-3-3. Combined with Roma going four at the back and lining up in a 4-2-3-1, this meant the match would be a back-and-forth battle of possession and chances. Sarri decided to gamble if not on his formation then on his line-up. Dries Mertens got the start up top with Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne while Marko Rog was a surprise start in the midfield. All the changes ended up being fortuitous.

The match began with energy and both sides found the middle too congested and began to explore opportunities on the wing. Both clubs had opportunities from the start but the breakthrough came when Mertens got in one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesny and chipped the ball over the top. The game continued to see both team have chances but again it was Roma’s defence that fell short and allowed Mertens to poach a second goal. As to be expected, Roma stayed in the match and almost snatched a point except for a Pepe Reina save late in the match.

Mertens’ goal scoring stole the headlines but Insigne was a danger throughout the match. One of the reasons Juventus is so dangerous is they always have a player who is enough a threat in front of goal that he can pull the defenders away enough to give Higuain space. Usually it’s Mandzukic but Juventus has options. In this match, Insigne made the right decisions and the Roma defenders could not.

In From the Touchline we usually focus on one manager and his decisions during a match. This column could have taken a very different tone as Sarri was sent to the stands for dissent and Napoli had a hard time accounting for the introduced Salah. However, the back four for Napoli made fewer mistakes than Roma’s and benefitted from Dzeko et al’s poor game.

The result keeps Napoli theoretically in the scudetto race but more realistically allows them to keep the pressure on Roma for an automatic Champions League place.