Dries Mertens scored twice in a thrilling second versus third clash in Serie A when Roma hosted Napoli at the Olimpico. Here we take a look at how Maurizio Sarri triumphed over Luciano Spalletti in Napoli’s 2-1 win in Rome.

Roma set up with a flexible 3-4-2-1 when attacking which changed into 4-4-1-1 when attacking. When defending, Wojciech Szczesny was in goal with Antonio Rüdiger as the right back, Manolas and Fazio as centre-backs and Juan Jesus as left back. Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman was the double pivot with Radja Nainggolan ahead of them. Diego Perotti defended as the right midfielder, Stephan El Shaarawy as the left midfielder and Edin Dzeko up front. In attack, Rüdiger became the right wing back, Manolas, Fazio and Jesus formed a back-three, Perotti moved inside alongside Nainggolan but had license to drift wide (which he often did) while El Shaarawy stayed wide on the left as a left wing back.

Napoli were more straightforward, a 4-3-3 with José Reina in goal, Elseid Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam in defence. The midfield was Jorginho as the regista, Croatian sensation Marko Rog as the right sided centre midfielder with talisman Marek Hamsik as the left one. Up front was the diminutive trio of José Callejon, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne. Interesting with youngster Rog who made his first start against Juventus a few days previously in the Coppa Italia and impressed.

Napoli’s compact team

Napoli defended in a really compact manner. Look at the minimal space between the defensive and midfield line. Players push and drop in unison and Roma are forced to play around, not through.

Napoli also pressed intensely when appropriate. Due to Roma’s back three in possession, Mertens usually pressed the central centre back, with the wingers pressing the wider centre-back who had possession. In this example below, Roma have two centre-backs in the first line as Jesus hasn’t dropped yet. Callejon push on against Fazio while Rog, Jorginho, Hamsik and Insigne forming a four man midfield behind the situational front two. If Roma could get out of the press and switch side, the pressing winger drops back into midfield to create a five man midfield line.

Below is another sequence of Roma struggling to get out of Napoli’s press.

Quality passing from the visitors

As always, Napoli impressed in possession. Their passing was quick and sharp as ever however they were disrupted by Roma man-marking them from goal kicks. This resulted in quite a few long goal kicks from Reina, but when the ball was played back while in open play, Napoli could find their passing rhythm.

Above you see a fantastic attack where the ball is moved quickly from the back into midfield, in between the lines to the free man Hamsik who plays it through to Mertens who was judged to have fouled Fazio. Debatable decision, but still a fantastic attack highlighting Napoli’s quality in possession. Always looking for the pass forward to progress the attack.

Another sequence of excellent Napoli passing football. Using the width to stretch Roma, finding space centrally with great movement and switching to the opposite side. Here you also see Roma’s defensive shape in a 4-4-1-1. The movement, the timing of these little runs to make space and the passing is excellent. Lovely to watch.

Goals

It was once again the Dries Mertens show in terms of goal scoring. The Belgian struck twice and is now up to 18 Serie A strikes.

This is Mertens first goal. The goal is typical of Napoli’s approach under Sarri. A few quick passes to attract the opponent to the ball, movement by Hamsik in between the lines, pass into the free man (Hamsik) followed by a sharp through ball to a threatening run from Mertens.

For the second strike, Napoli press against Fazio after a long ball from Reina. The Argentine can’t manage to find a teammate, instead playing the ball straight into the wall of Napoli player. A swift passing move first finds Hamsik between the lines who feeds Insigne. Note the difference in reaction from Insigne and his closest opponent Rüdiger. They start in the same position, but the German is never even close to catching the winger. A perfect delivery sets the chance up perfectly for Mertens.

Summary

Napoli gained a significant win against their rivals in Rome. Roma are still ahead of Napoli in the table, but they close the gap and will, at the very least, keep the distance to Atalanta in fourth. Another encouraging performance from young Marko Rog will also glad Sarri ahead of the titanic Champions  League return leg against Real Madrid. It was the perfect rehearsal for Napoli, and with Hamsik, Insigne and Mertens in this kind of form going forward as well as Napoli’s excellent defensive organisation, Napoli can definitely trouble Real.

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