Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Napoli vs Dortmund - Rafa knows

Napoli 2 - 1 Dortmund
September 18th 2013
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The two sides lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, however each side has it's own way of using the shape and style of play. Dortmund will always press high whilst holding a high defensive line and try and force errors further up the field, as they did last season. Napoli, now under the guidance of Benitez, have this season shifted from 3 at the back to playing 4-2-3-1 and look to sit deeper, and would look to hit Dortmund on the counter.

The high line of Dortmund is perhaps why Benitez chose to drop Pandev from his starting 11 and replace him with the more mobile Insigne. In an attempt to exploit the space in behind Dortmund, Insigne offered more movement and potential to break through the lines running from deep.

Dortmund's high line actually suited Higuain. His excellent movement and killer instinct really troubled the Dortmund defence. Whenever Napoli regained possession they would look quickly forward for a ball in behind to Higuain or for one of their attacking three to run directly at Dortmund's defence. It was a very different story at the other end of the field for Lewandowski, who despite one good attempt on goal in the first half, was mostly a spectator during the first 45 minutes. With Napoli retreating deep into their half, allowing Dortmund possession up to the half way line, Lewandowski found his supply line crowded out by the hard work of the Napoli midfield.
Napoli look to smother space in their third

Over 90 minutes the Napoli midfield managed to achieve 12 interceptions compared to the 5 of Dortmund. Though Dortmund's midfield won more tackles, these did not always lead to actually regaining possession and often just temporarily broke up Napoli's passing. It was a combination of one of these interceptions and the space behind Dortmund's defence that led to the turning point on the game.
Higuain quickly exploits the space behind Dortmund

Already 1-0 down from a Higuain header, Napoli sat back and allowed Dortmund's back line to progress forward. Once they entered the Napoli half the midfield began to press and intercepted a sloppy pass from Grobkreutz. They immediately looked for a ball over the top as Higuain made a run through the defence. Higuain was closed down by Weidenfeller who was forced to handle outside of the area and was rightly dismissed.

It's important to note that both the 1st goal and the sending off came whilst Hummels was off the field. (CORRECTION: the goal came while Subotic was off the field) The goal was conceded whilst he was delayed returning to the pitch after treatment. which led to Klopp being sent to the stands for screaming at the fourth official, and the red card came once Hummels had been substituted due to injury. Dortmund's defending on both occasions was very sloppy, though Higuain had broken through on other occasions.

Another difference between the sides was their set piece delivery. On 3 occasions in the first half Reus delivered poor set pieces, wasting good opportunities in promising positions. However Napoli's first goal came from a  set piece, and in the second half Insigne extended his teams lead with a wonderful freekick from quite a distance outside the box

6 vs 1 Napoli see the game out
Later in the game, Napoli scored a bizarre own goal when Zuniga attempted a back heel volley in his own box and Reus finally put a freekick on target only to be denied by Reina, though Dortmund didn't deserve a point. Predictably, and understandably, Dortmund offered little in the second half as Benitez instructed his team to see the game out and withdrew key players. Dortmund's high tempo high pressing game can not really be done when the opposition aren't required to take risks and Dortmund are a man down.


If Dortmund are to repeat lasts years wonderful achievements they may have to find alternate plans and be more flexible. Rafa Benitez is a master of European competitions and his Napoli side were well prepared to both stifle Dortmund and exploit their weaknesses. It's telling that in the first half Higuain had 16 touches to Lewandowski's 11, completed 2 dribbles to the Poles 0, and and 3 shots to his opponents 1. Albiol and Britos did well marshalling Lewandowski but it was the work of the whole team that cut out Dortmund's supply line, and Napoli's use of Higuain to exploit the space that saw Napoli deserved winners.

Man of the match: Lorenzo Insigne

All match statistics from


  1. It was actually Subotic who was just coming back onto the field for Higuain's goal. You can see him jogging back in the first second of this gif:

    Otherwise good artice. :-)

  2. Thanks Kyle, just corrected, my mistake!