Beware Liverpool! Reds face a vastly changed Napoli under Carlo Ancelottiby Chloe Beresford / 03 October 2018, 11:45Tweet
It was never going to be easy. Replacing Maurizio Sarri – a man who had given his Napoli the most precise and strict system imaginable – was like breaking up a 10,000 piece jigsaw and then being under pressure to put it back together again in a very short space of time.
“I chose to come to Napoli because of the passion in the city and the project of the club,” the boss revealed in a recent interview with Sky Italia. “We are trying to change something and it’s working pretty well.”
It clearly wasn’t however as, before the international break in September, the Partenopei had struggled. They conceded seven goals from their first seven shots on target faced, but when new boss Carlo Ancelotti emerged after that period it was clear how much effort he had put into making the transformation successful.
From there, they recorded a 3-1 win away to Torino and a 3-0 demolition of Parma, as well as having kept a clean sheet in the Champions League away at Red Star Belgrade. By last Saturday night, they were just three points behind reigning champions Juventus as they took on the latter side away from home, and supporters must’ve really started to believe in the work of Ancelotti as Dries Mertens opened the scores after just 10 minutes.
Yet Juve were simply too strong, their superstar summer signing Cristiano Ronaldo weighing in with three assists as the Old Lady eventually won 3-1. Ancelotti and Napoli will have no time to lick their wounds as Wednesday sees them host Liverpool in Europe but – whatever the result – the Coach must be applauded for what he has done so far.
A lack of rotation under Sarri was the most glaringly obvious factor in why Napoli failed to beat the Bianconeri to the title, having come closer and closer in each of the chain-smoking Italian’s three seasons in charge. The new Chelsea boss used just 12 players for over 1,000 Serie A minutes as Mertens, Pepe Reina, Jose Callejon, Elseid Hysaj, Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly were all running on empty as that group all played over 3,000 domestic minutes alone.
The philosophy of Ancelotti stands in stark contrast as he has already used 21 players in the league this term, the likes of 22-year-old defender Sebastiano Luperto joining the backline for the aforementioned win over Torino. The Coach seems to be executing his plan to give key members of the squad periodic rest, and defeat to Juve may not seem so disastrous if he can keep his side going for longer as the campaign reaches the final stages.
It is not just the lineup, either, that has been subject to transformation. An early shift away from Sarri’s 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 was again reshuffled after early problems at the back, the Coach seeing better results from a more traditional 4-4-2.
“After the Fiorentina game, we started to defend in a different way,” Ancelotti continued in the same interview. “Lorenzo Insigne is decisive for us in his new position as a more central striker and not a winger. Insigne is in tremendous form and I think we need to make the most of that right now.”
Indeed, the pint-sized forward has already scored five goals and provided one assist in just 542 minutes of domestic action this term, almost equalling the eight-goal tally achieved by Insigne last season in just under six times the amount of playing time.
A more defensive shape should help to counterbalance Liverpool’s aggressive pressing in the Champions League on Wednesday evening, but just like in the match against Juve, this test could be a case of too much, too soon in Ancelotti’s project. Yet with all he has achieved with reassembling the Napoli in the jigsaw already, this side could just surprise us all.