Third host second in Serie A, with Lazio coming off two straight defeats up against a Napoli side unbeaten so far in 2013. Vladimir Petkovic has to do without top scorer Miroslav Klose, so has to decide between Sergio Floccari and new signing Louis Saha to lead the line. With Lazio playing 4-1-4-1 against Walter Mazzarri’s 3-4-1-2, the midfield zone is largely mirrored, meaning the positioning and movement of either teams’ defensive and attacking players will go a long way to deciding the pattern of the match. The reverse fixture in September was memorable for Klose admitting to handling the ball for a goal that would have put Lazio ahead, before an Edison Cavani hat-trick secured Napoli the victory in a game in which he also missed a penalty.
The mirroring of the midfield zone will make space hard to find and short passing difficult. This suits Napoli completely, with their 3-4-1-2 system far more suited to direct counter attacking than Lazio’s 4-1-4-1. Ultimately Lazio may find it difficult to get players to support their lone forward, with few willing runners from midfield and their most effective target man Klose missing through injury.
The loss of Klose is huge as he is vital to Petkovic’s system, and his absence may even lead to a change in formation. When fit he has the strength, movement and technical quality to hold up play and wait for teammates to support him, making him arguably the most important part of the lone forward system. With neither Floccari nor Saha capable of performing Klose’s role to the same standard it may be difficult to effectively play their usual style without him.
Naturally movement will be vital for midfielders to find space. Marek Hamsik will look to take up positions in wide areas to escape the attention of Christian Ledesma, possibly even going so far as to form a front three with Cavani and Goran Pandev. Lazio’s central players have fewer options, with Hernanes generally looking to remain in central areas, but they do have the potential to outnumber Napoli on the flanks if wide midfielders Senad Lulic and Antonio Candreva take up aggressive positions behind the opposing wing backs in the knowledge that they are covered by their full backs behind them.
Central Playmaker vs Deep Playmaker
Following on from the midfield considerations, both teams utilise a different style of playmaker. Lazio’s Hernanes likes to dictate play from central positions and looking for passes to players ahead of him. Against Napoli he may find this difficult, being surrounded by opposing midfielders and having a lone forward to aim for. Hernanes is capable of moving into advanced positions, but would only find himself covered by one of Napoli’s spare centre backs.
Napoli’s Hamsik is almost the opposite, playing in a more advanced position and being more mobile in his pursuit of space from which to run at defenders. With two forwards ahead of him he has teammates to attack with, and with Napoli fielding no wingers there is space on either flank to move to. Once again the probable pattern of the game suggests Napoli have the advantage, as from a congested midfield the mobility and verticality of Hamsik should allow him greater opportunities to link up with his forwards.
All formations concede space somewhere on the pitch, and it is in the interest of the opposition to take advantage of this. With a lone forward Lazio are conceding space in attack, which from a defensive point of view may be acceptable but from an attacking perspective may create problems, as already discussed. Both Napoli’s outer centre backs should find time on the ball, although this is a weakness of Mazzarri’s side and a factor they may fail to exploit. If defenders are unable to find easy passes into the midfielders ahead of them, possible given the mirrored midfield formations, they are likely to look long for Napoli’s attacking trio.
With a back three, Napoli concede on the wings, so while both wing backs will look to engage Lazio’s wide midfielders, the home side’s full backs will largely remain free. Napoli are capable of pressing energetically, so Stefan Radu and Abdoulay Konko will need to make themselves available for passes out wide and encourage the wingers ahead to take up advanced positions.
The 3-0 scoreline earlier in the season reflected the tactical contest between the two sides – Napoli’s fluid 3-4-1-2 system is almost perfectly suited to exploit the rigidness of Lazio’s formation. The loss of Klose cannot be overstated as the striker is fundamental to any lone forward system and the German has all the attributes to perform the role effectively. Lazio has been successful with their 4-5-1 variation this season, but they may need to change things to give Napoli problems – possibly by pushing Hernanes forward into a 4-4-1-1 or fielding two forwards in a 4-4-2. Such a decision would be a risk and undermine the strikers that Petkovic will have to rely on during Klose’s two month absence, and Lazio may settle to keep men behind the ball in an attempt to frustrate the visitors.