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Match Preview: SSC Napoli vs AC Milan

After the euphoria of beating Juventus FC, AC Milan now faces their newest challenge, SSC Napoli. Winning this game is crucial.

Napoli’s Mexican forward Hirving Lozano (C) celebrates with... Photo by Pietro Mosca/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

The chase for fifth in Italy is officially on. AC Milan has announced their claim on fifth over the last two matchdays with emphatic victories over Juventus FC and SS Lazio. However, Milan now faces its most crucial game from this set of three fixtures. A victory against SSC Napoli would assure Milan stays in sixth by the end of matchday thirty-two. The last two victories were incredible, but this is the one that counts the most.

The Typical SSC Napoli Formation and Tactics

Napoli plays a hybrid 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1. This means that Napoli plays wide down the wings and has a defensive midfielder generally tasked with helping the center back’s recycle possession or defend. The other two central midfielders have the ability to run forward, but need to fall into shape in defense. The wingers are allowed to stay wide or cut inside. Defensively, there is a noticeable line of four players in front of the defensive midfielder. The striker can be allowed to press by himself, or with one of the wingers. What this should sound like is AC Milan almost all of last season.

These two formations have some positives. This 4-3-3 variation is fairly easy to organize. Gennaro Gattuso has not reinvented the formation at any of the teams he has coached. However, his system is built on defensive stability, possession, and work ethic. Every Gattuso team will follow these core sentiments. So, Napoli has become harder to break down, more resilient, and has a tendency to hoard the ball.

Defensively is where Gattuso shines the most. His teams are hard to break down and organized through each phase of defense. The team functions well going backward, but it breaks down when the team attacks.

This happened with Milan last year and is happening again this year with Napoli. As the team breaks forward, the offense becomes about player tendencies. If Lorenzo Insigne wants to cut inside, he has the freedom to do so. Does Dries Mertens see space out wide, then he is free to venture wide even if he vacates the middle of the field. What this creates is a generally uncoordinated attack that is stoppable. This system works better with more skilled players but can seriously struggle if players are not working in unison. It stifled Milan attacks last year, it has had similar effects this season.

How the Numbers Talk About Napoli

Napoli is undershooting their expected goals. If the team had been finishing as expected, they would have fifty-three goals instead of fifty. Their most notable player undershooting their personal xG is Insigne. He has an expected total of nine, but an actual total of five. I would expect this season to be a strange down year for Insigne, instead of a new normal. Hirving Lozano, Matteo Politano, Fernando Llorente, and Piotr Zieliński are other notable players undershooting their xG (these vary in severity).

Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli experienced the majority of the finishing issues for Napoli this season, however, it did not end with his departure. The team from Naples has struggled to shoot almost all season. It is strange to see these issues because Napoli has been incredible in the last two seasons at high octane counter-attacking soccer.

The defensive solidity has muted the issues from the finishing issues. However, do not underestimate the shooting talent of Napoli. They are one of the best long-range shooting teams in Italy.

Thoughts On The Match

I have said earlier that Milan needed four points from the current run of three fixtures. Milan then beat Lazio and Juventus, which was amazing, but this is the game that matters the most. Beating teams within your tranche (means grouping) in the table is crucial. If you can beat Napoli then you securely move up a position. Other wins keep you in the race, but this can change the equation for the Europa League places. If Milan can posses and hold onto the sixth position and continue their assault on fifth, then this game can be viewed as a keystone in that chase. Hopefully, Milan can finish off a statement week of fixtures with a win. The Rossoneri have looked good, but this could define the start of a new era.