Allan shines for Napoli in big UCL win over Liverpool

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Napoli’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool last night inside a vibrant San Paolo was one to remember for Neapolitans. Manager Carlo Ancelotti outclassed Reds boss Jürgen Klopp, executing his tactical game-plan down to its finest details and stifling the Champions League Final runner-ups with unwavering pressure and energy throughout the entire 90 minutes of play. The 59-year old Italian showed exactly why he is a three-time winner of the competition yesterday and further validated his ability to tinker with his tactics at his current job.

While local boy Lorenzo Insigne eventually became the hero when he latched onto and finished off his 90th minute winner, there was plenty of praise to go around amongst the Partenopei for the inspiring team effort, specifically for midfield enforcer Allan.

Ancelotti’s tactics were explained by sporting director Cristiano Guintoli moments prior to kick-off in Naples; a 3-5-1-1 in the attacking phase, but a 4-4-1-1 when defending. Whatever the approach was for Napoli, its flawless execution likely would not have occurred without the presence of Allan.

The 27-year old from Rio de Janeiro has long been a class midfielder, even before moving over to Napoli from Udinese in 2015. For one reason or another, however, his quality had  been passed over by Europe’s majority, bar those with a vested interest in Italian football who are well aware of his impact.

Previously in Maurizio Sarri’s acclaimed ‘Sarriball’, Allan had propelled himself into the upper echelon of Serie A midfielders, especially during last year’s run at Juventus for the title. But as we know, the Champions League takes precedence, serving as the biggest and brightest stage for footballers to shine, strut their stuff and, in Allan’s case, gain the attention he deserves – and he did just that.

Last night, the balance in Allan’s game was paramount towards Napoli’s success in nullifying Liverpool and preventing them from firing a single shot on target, as well as controlling the bulk of possession (57%) and creating chances (10). In those brief spells Liverpool did get the ball and look to spring forward, which were few and far between, Napoli closed down the carrier and the surrounding space with numbers, rendering it ineffective.

While Marek Hamsik dictated the tempo and pace of play going forward in the offensive build-up as the ‘regista’, Allan complimented him as the workhorse we are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis. His high-motor to fight for the ball is unrivaled in Italy and is amongst the best in the competition at the moment. Beyond initiating five successful tackles as a result of his desire and true grit, Allan exhibited his under-rated technical ability to move the ball (94% pass accuracy), stretch the field (4 long balls) and play out of pressure in tight space. Even when Napoli held possession and made the transition to three at the back to negate Liverpool’s press, Allan’s positional sense opened up the necessary passing lanes to be played by centre-back Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly.

Allan’s dynamism is prevalent in both the defensive and offensive phases, but his understanding of space and the game as it presents itself cannot fall by the wayside any longer.

Liverpool certainly were disappointing overall, and boiling it down to one individual aspect does not tell the entire story of their demise in southern Italy. Full-backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold did not bomb forward nearly enough to create any sort of real chances going forward for the potent attack to stir trouble for Napoli’s backline. But the reason for their poor performance comes down to Napoli nailing their approach and Allan’s no-nonsense attitude towards fulfilling his assignments.

Last night’s victory put Napoli alone at the top of Group C ahead of Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain, but also perhaps was the defining performance Allan needed to finally earn the mainstream attention and call from Seleção coach Tite he rightfully deserves.

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