Napoli turned around their UEFA Champions League Group C bout with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, earning a 1-1 draw with strong second half efforts from Kalidou Koulibaly and Allan, as well as a cold-blooded penalty strike from Lorenzo Insigne.
As things stand, the Partenopei sit joint-first with Liverpool, and cling to a slight advantage on goal differential over the English outfits. Much of this success can be attributed to the individual efforts of many in the squad under manager Carlo Ancelotti. But, without question, the sharpness in play and positive results stem from the Italian’s meticulous approach towards tactical modifications and rotation.
Maurizio Sarri’s critically-acclaimed ‘Sarriball’ received plaudits and widespread applause during his tenure in southern Italy. At peak performance, the current Chelsea coach’s 433 was one tough code to crack for the opposition.Yet, when opponents managed to stymie Sarri’s quick, free-flowing style of football, Napoli often struggled to navigate through matches – and much of this was due to his stubbornness towards rotation and establishing alternative winning blueprints.
Solely from a personnel standpoint, Ancelotti’s Napoli is nearly identical to Sarri’s, minus tempo-setter Jorginho who followed the chain-smoking tactician to Stamford Bridge. The only difference here is the eyebrow-raising Ancelotti has utilized his entire roster of 20-22 players, whereas his predecessor burned out a select 14 to the point where they seemingly ran out of gas in the latter stages of the season.
Through 11 Serie A matches last year, Napoli held sole possession of first place in the table ahead of Juventus, compared to the current 2018-19 season where they trail by six points in second place. Yet, it is overtly obvious that along with Ancelotti’s winning past in the UCL, the attention towards rotating has fostered a new mentality amongst the entire squad that each and every player has a purpose. Some larger than others of course, but in order to effectively balance between competitions, and maintain a winning DNA, Ancelotti has shown understanding of the level of rigor required for Napoli to rid themselves of the stigma as being a club not battle tested to meet their objectives.
Beyond the league standing and success of Ancelotti in Europe to date this year compared to previous ones under Sarri, the former’s rotation has thus far made Napoli a more difficult puzzle to solve by virtue of switching between a 433, 4231 and the most effective 442; it also affords the Azzurri alternative ways to maneuver through a long campaign on more than fumes.
Ancelotti’s heavy emphasis on squad rotation, as it goes hand in hand with the many tactical adjustments to his formations, can best be revealed through a repeat of just one XI through 15 matches and having all but four players (Faouzi Ghoulam, Amin Younes, Alex Meret and Vald Chiriches) feature.
By all accounts, this tightly contested Group C will be decided on the final round of this phase and you can expect Ancelotti finding that sweet spot in his rotation plans will continue to loom large in Napoli meeting both domestic and European objectives this campaign.
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