August 27, 2012 by Mehul Kesavakumar
The Italian football season began with the Super Cup between defending league champions Juventus and Cup winners Napoli. The game was played at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing and featured the use of extra officials.
Juventus took home the trophy with a 4-2 win after extra time. The game had finished 2-2 after 90 minutes with Pandev and Zuniga getting sent off for Napoli (the former getting a straight red) in the final 10 minutes while Dossena was also given a ban after making a “threatening expression” to the assistant after the game finished.
As has long been the norm in Italian football, the game finished with talk of injustice amongst the losing party which has made supporters paranoid and given presidents excuses over the years. Napoli boycotted the post-match trophy presentation and president Aurelio de Laurentiis gave the players a bonus of €20,000 because he felt that they were the “moral winners”.
Napoli Front Line
Juventus started with a 3-5-2 shape while Napoli began with a 3-4-1-2 shape. The tactical interest was provided by the positioning of Napoli’s strikers.
Without the ball, both Napoli strikers would drift wider onto the wide Juventus centre-backs (shown by the lines) while the central sweeper Bonucci (circled) was left in space. This effectively meant that Napoli played without a central striker for most of the game as Juventus dominated possession.
Napoli defended very deep throughout the game. There was a conscious effort to allow Bonucci time and space on the ball. This basically forced him into a libero role and he was invited to come forward with the ball (as shown in the image above).
Napoli’s forwards cut out easy sideways passing options for Bonucci in this manner while Pirlo was not given the space to shine either. This made the Juventus centre-back resort to more extravagant long-range passes. The results of this were mixed. Some of his passes were wayward but others were quite good and he created a good chance for Vucinic with a long-ball down the middle.
Napoli did not mind relinquishing most of the possession. Getting the Juventus centre-backs high up the pitch was obviously part of the plan and this was how Napoli scored their opener.
The Juventus defending in this game left a lot to be desired. As you can see from the above image, all 3 Juventus centre-backs are caught too close to each other and this leaves Cavani clear space to run into through the middle. Pandev slips him in and this puts Cavani one-on-one with Buffon and the striker eventually finished giving Napoli the lead.
Cavani’s excellent defensive work
Edinson Cavani was excellent with his application without the ball which is pretty rare for a star forward. He did the positional work of more than 1 player in the game.
Here you can Cavani (circled) closing down Asamoah on Napoli’s right-hand side.
And this is him battling Vidal on the other side.
And here is him tracking Pirlo after switching positions with Hamsik. Credit here should also be given to Mazzarri for clearly defining the roles of different players without the ball so that the structure is not lost.
Cavani leading from the front
Cavani didn’t just make sure that he did his own duties without the ball, he also made sure that those around him stuck to the game plan.
Walter Gargano came on for a rather lackluster Hamsik in the second half. In the above image, Gargano is thinking of closing down Bonucci which is obviously not the game plan as highlighted earlier. You can see Cavani signaling to Gargano to stop closing down Bonucci and focus his attentions on Pirlo (circled) instead.
Does Cavani spend too much time defending?
The one criticism that can be leveled against Cavani here is that he is perhaps too responsible in his defensive work thus limiting his attacking threat somewhat.
The above image shows an example of this. Napoli win the ball in the middle of the park but have Hamsik as the furthest forward player while Cavani is behind the play. The move eventually breaks down.
This is obviously a sacrifice Napoli were prepared to make. You can’t play a 3-4-1-2 with strikers drifting out wide to provide extra cover without sacrificing attacking options.
Cavani is one of the most highly rated forwards in Europe and one can see why. His application without the ball is what coaches dream of not to mention his pace, power and leadership qualities. With 33 goals in each of his past 2 seasons, he could well be worth the gamble for one of Europe’s big teams.