Juventus-Napoli was the big match of the year in the Italian Serie A league. Juventus, unbeaten for
the last 14 consecutive games, was in pursuit of its 15th win and first place in the league standings.
Napoli, winners of the last 4 league matches, and table leaders in the Italian Serie A, were looking to establish themselves as the team to beat this year in the league.
A win from Napoli would have given them a 5 point lead and some breathing room from Juventus with 13 games left in the season. Plus, they would have had the “honor” of stopping Juventus' winning streak at 14 games.
Newspapers and social networks had created a big hype before this game: Higuain vs. Dybala, best offensive team –Napoli– versus the best defensive team -Juventus-.
At the end, like many times in these types of games, expectations far exceeded reality.
At the 87th minute of the second half, when everyone was “celebrating a self-serving tie” Juventus went ahead with Simone Zara, giving them the league lead and their 15th consecutive win.
From the spectator’s perspective, the game was boring, with few scoring opportunities from both sides. It was clear that not losing was priority, rather than trying to win the game.
From a coaching perspective though, it was an interesting match. Chiellini’s injury and Sarri’s 4-3-3 had forced Allegri to change from his usual 3-5-2, to a 4-4-2 system of play.
With four players in the back, Juventus was in a better position to deal with the dynamic up front trio of Callejon, Higuain, and Insigne.
However, Podga was forced to play in a wide position; not ideal for his characteristics and abilities.
Napoli on the other end was coming to the game with their successful offensive minded 4-3-3 formation, and the title of best scoring team in the league.
Juventus' strength all season has been the ability to defending very well against any team they have played, and using an organized counterattack as a way to beat teams. Allegri was quite aware that, if given Napoli playable space behind the back line, Juventus would have been vulnerable to their dynamic and successful counter attacks.
For Juventus, their tactical approach was clear: take away playable space from Napoli by way of defensive pressing and quickly counterattacks hoping to catch their defense unbalanced.(Fig 2,3,4)
Napoli did not played to their strength which is their attacking game. Their approach was very conservative, more worried on defending than on good attacking play.
Their 4-3-3 was transformed into a 4-5-1 with Insigne and Callejon constantly preoccupied on defending deep (fig 1). This isolated Higuain which became easy prey to Juventus' central defenders. At the end a tie would have been a fair result, but Napoli must take responsibility for trying to play a style of game that strongly penalizes their team's offensive power.
Ultimately, it was a defensive match which was won by the team that makes their defensive organization a priority:Juventus.
The following is a video that analyzes some tactical aspects of the game for both teams when attacking or defending.