It is common knowledge that an incompetent Coach is capable of turning even the best of teams into an ineffective force. The match between Napoli and Udinese gives us an interesting conflict in that both are very good teams, yet both are handled by Coaches who come short of their tasks. While ‘incompetent’ may be too harsh a term to describe Roberto Donadoni and Pasquale Marino, their opening league results have been unimpressive and a great deal of the problems in their teams come down to tactical questions. As for the players, Napoli has a stronger squad than Udinese and they have the advantage of playing at home in one of the hottest stadiums in Italy, so it seems unproblematic to call them favourites. The only advantage for their adversaries is the psychological backdrop – Napoli have just suffered a 4-1 defeat against Genoa which must have been difficult to swallow, especially as it was influenced by poor refereeing decisions. Udinese, by contrast, conquered Catania 4-2 and are heading into this match with their chins held high, looking to build on the good result.
With all due concessions made to Napoli’s excellent midfield, the 3-5-2 formation seems a little incautious, and the flurry of goals conceded against Genoa confirms the worries with respect to the defensive department. The problem is not in the number (or lack thereof) of defenders fielded, but in the ease with which rival teams have pierced the Neapolitans on the counter. Udinese play as much of an offensive game as Genoa, so Donadoni will have to take special care and keep at least one defensive midfielder on his guard against the runs of Simone Pepe or Antonio Di Natale (the latter in sensational form). On the other side of the pitch we may expect to see the pairing of Fabio Quagliarella and Ezequiel Lavezzi, a duo whom Marino defined as “the second best attack in Italy after that of Inter.” The statement seemed aggrandising, but the two players are undoubtedly very threatening, as both men possess technique, speed and solid finishing power. The confidence of Quagliarella is a bit of an incognito as he will be playing against his former team and he may be subject to some serious (and noisy) pressure by the local crowd. Otherwise the man is in very good form and he should be kept on close watch.
26 De Sanctis
13 Santacroce – 28 P.Cannavaro – 96 Contini
11 Maggio – 23 Gargano – 21 Cigarini – 17 Hamsik – 15 Datolo
27 Quagliarella – 7 Lavezzi
Antonio Di Natale and his science-fictional ratio of two goals per match are the only certainties for Udinese, who were faced with some problems even when dismantling Catania. Marino has stuck to the 4-3-3 and he will be looking to exploit the shaky rear-guard of his rivals, burning them on the counter by means of his speedy trident. Of course, strong work in the midfield will be mandatory to achieve this, particularly from playmaker Gaetano D’Agostino, as the Udine team are outnumbered three to five at the centre of the pitch. Depending on whether his men can hold the pressure, Marino may turn to a 4-4-2, the formation which gave him the comeback against Catania and which, perhaps, should become standard for Udinese. With such static fullbacks as Maurizio Domizzi and Cristian Zapata, it makes sense to give space to two wingers, especially since both Pepe and Alexis Sanchez have shown that they deserve to start. Furthermore this formation would allow for the use of reliable holding midfielders Gokhan Inler and Kwadwo Asamoah as the central pair, forming a cushion upon which the team can fall back in those times when D’Agostino is not available.
80 Domizzi – 2 Zapata – 19 Felipe – 3 Lukovic
20 Asamoah – 21 D’Agostino – 88 Inler
7 Pepe – 10 Di Natale – 11 Sanchez
Both teams suffer from serious problems in their defensive departments, and the Coach most successful at handling these will probably walk home with the result. Napoli’s trouble is tactical – it relates to how the team as a whole balances its offensive and defensive momentum to guard itself from adversary runs. The issue with Udinese lies in its individual players – Zapata and goalkeeper Samir Handanovic have made some mistakes which cannot be forgiven in a team of this calibre, and all too often Udinese’s defenders ‘forget’ to mark their men in the box. Since both teams are liable to concede very much at the slightest error, possessing as they do two excellent attacks to take advantage of their rivals’ defensive holes, we may expect one of the teams to take the lead and then close itself like a hedgehog to defend the result. Whether this technique is bound to work will depend on how their rivals confront the catenaccio – if, for instance, they can attempt to break it without exposing themselves too much to the counter. At all events, it is not implausible to state that the match will give us more than one goal. Napoli are the favourites, as they almost always are when playing at home, but their opponent is insidious and Donadoni is no exceptional leader. He claimed that he feels ‘like a lion hungry for revenge’ after the Genoa game. But any slip-up against this particular team may turn them a very bitter plate, and it is small consolation to know that the exact same thing holds true for Marino.