How Arsenal’s Europa League opponents Napoli have moved on from ‘Sarri-ball’ under Carlo Ancelotti

first_imgArkadiusz Milik has emerged as Napoli’s first-choice frontman this season (Getty Images)Mertens’ blistering form allied to another serious knee injury for Milik meant he was relegated down the pecking order under Sarri, however, he has been pivotal to Ancelotti thus far, top-scoring for his side with 16 goals in 28 Serie A games. His superior physicality and hold-up play to the diminutive Belgian has been a factor in his rise in importance.AdvertisementAlthough Mertens has still made an important contribution with 11 league goals and nine assists, he has already made more substitute appearances (11) this term than in the previous two seasons combined (10), highlighting his more reduced role in Ancelotti’s plans.Part of the reason for that has been Lorenzo Insigne’s redeployment as a second striker in a central position after playing out wide under Sarri. Insigne’s stats haven’t been as eye-catching as Mertens’ – nine goals and six assists – yet his greater understanding with Milik could see him get the nod at the Emirates.Area of weaknessNapoli have plenty of attacking weapons with which to inflict damage on Arsenal with Milik, Mertens and Insigne all in double figures for goals this season in all competitions and Jose Callejon likewise in the assists charts.However, while Ancelotti will be confident in his attackers’ ability to cause Arsenal problems, Emery will be equally hopeful that his own set of forwards can do damage at the other end of the pitch given Napoli’s own defensive issues of late.‘We’re defending badly at the moment, even when it was 11 against 10, and that means we cannot control the game. If you control the game, you don’t allow counter-attacks, you don’t let the opposition to turn and run at you,’ Ancelotti said at the weekend. Maurizio Sarri received plenty of praise for Napoli’s style of play (Getty Images)Having taken over a side that achieved a points tally of 91 in the 2017-18 Serie A season, Ancelotti was wary of trying to change too much, too soon. He acknowledged as much in October, saying: ‘I don’t want my squad to have only one identity, I want it to have many. My goal is not to take apart the legacy that has been constructed here.’Ancelotti’s desire to keep remnants of Sarri’s style intact have been clear in some respects. Napoli top the possession stakes in Serie A this season once more, for instance, although their average rate has shrunk from 60.3% last season down to 56.7% this. They remain a potent goal threat too, scoring on average 1.87 goals per game, compared to 2.02 last term.4-3-3 to 4-4-2Nevertheless, there have been obvious changes. The first major shift away from ‘Sarri-ball’ came in pre-season when Jorginho – Napoli’s metronomic midfield centrepiece under Sarri – was whisked off to do the same job at Chelsea just a day after Sarri had been paraded around Stamford Bridge.Napoli opted against signing a natural replacement for Jorginho with the more adaptable and attack-minded Fabian Ruiz joining in a £27m deal from Real Betis instead.AdvertisementAdvertisementAt first, Ancelotti retained Sarri’s favoured 4-3-3 system and attempted to re-purpose Marek Hamsik as the team’s midfield lynchpin in the ‘Jorginho role’ after persuading him to stay in Naples last summer amid interest from China. Napoli have been leaky at the back in recent matches (Getty Images)‘It’s an alarm bell, certainly, because if we play like this in London, then we’re in trouble.’Despite the presence of the £130m rated Kalidou Koulibaly in their backline, Napoli haven’t kept a clean sheet since beating Salzburg 3-0 in their Europa League last-16 first leg six matches ago, conceding eight goals in that time.AdvertisementNapoli’s propensity to keep the ball at will under Sarri played a part in their impressive defensive record last season but Ancelotti’s more open style is perhaps partly to blame for the team conceding more goals per game this season than in 2017-18.More: Arsenal FCArsenal flop Denis Suarez delivers verdict on Thomas Partey and Lucas Torreira movesThomas Partey debut? Ian Wright picks his Arsenal starting XI vs Manchester CityArsene Wenger explains why Mikel Arteta is ‘lucky’ to be managing ArsenalEx-Arsenal scout claims Mikel Arteta will give Thomas Partey a new role Advertisement Arsenal return to continental duty on Thursday as they host Napoli in the Europa League quarter-final first leg and there will be a familiar face in the opposition dugout.The Emirates faithful will know all about Carlo Ancelotti having seen a couple of his team’s steamroller Arsenal in their own back yard: Didier Drogba inflicting the damage in a 3-0 win in November 2009 and Bayern Munich doing so collectively in a 5-1 hammering just over two years ago.Ancelotti also presided over a 0-0 stalemate at the Emirates in a Champions League last-16 first leg clash in 2008 – a result that put his AC Milan side in the driving seat before a shock 2-0 defeat in the return. A similar outcome tonight, however, would set Ancelotti’s latest club Napoli up quite nicely, given their excellent home record and Arsenal’s rather shoddy away one.AdvertisementAdvertisementThis latest encounter between Ancelotti and Arsenal at the Emirates is a little different to the others, though. It will be the first time he locks horns with Unai Emery for a start, while Napoli, despite their qualities, are not as strong as Milan in 2008, Chelsea in 2009 or Bayern in 2017.ADVERTISEMENTNapoli might be the slight favourites according to the bookies’ but it is debatable whether or not they are as tough a proposition now as they might have been this time 12 months ago when managed by current Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri.Moving away from Sarri-ballAncelotti inherited statistically the greatest-ever runner-up in Serie A history when taking the reins at Napoli last summer before Sarri had even formally been dismissed. It was an intriguing appointment given the differences in style between the two coaches.Sarri, as Chelsea fans have discovered this season, is utterly embedded to his coaching philosophy and unshakable in his set of footballing principles. Ancelotti, meanwhile, has a reputation for being far more laissez-fair in his approach, generally adapting his methods to the players at his disposal rather than imposing a set style upon them. CommentShare this article via facebookShare this article via twitter165Shares By Oliver Young-MylesThursday 11 Apr 2019 6:00 amShare this article via facebookShare this article via twitterShare this article via messengerShare this with Share this article via emailShare this article via flipboardCopy link165Shares The departures of Jorginho and Marek Hamsik have resulted in Napoli changing their shape under Carlo Ancelotti (Getty Images)The experiment didn’t work, Ancelotti ditched the 4-3-3 for a 4-4-2 by early October and Hamsik belatedly made the trip to the Chinese Super League in February, moving to Dalian Yifang. Both Jorginho and Hamsik were pivotal parts of Sarri’s Napoli puzzle and both have since moved on.According to Whoscored, Napoli have started a match in a 4-4-2 formation in 23 of their 31 Serie A games this season, while in European competition they have done so in nine out of ten games. Only in their Champions League opener away to Red Star Belgrade, did Ancelotti send his side out in a system other 4-4-2.Milik the focal pointAllan and Ruiz have emerged as Napoli’s key central midfielders since Jorginho and Hamsik have left, with Piotr Zielinski also becoming a fixture in the side from a tucked in position off the left flank, but there have been other key personnel changes further up the pitch.Arguably the biggest beneficiary to a new manager and subsequent switch in approach is the Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik, who has taken Dries Mertens’ place as the focal point of Napoli’s attack.Milik had been signed as a direct replacement for Gonzalo Higuain in 2016 but a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained a couple of months into his spell in Naples resulted in Sarri turning to Dries Mertens as his first-choice striker. Advertisement How Arsenal’s Europa League opponents Napoli have moved on from ‘Sarri-ball’ under Carlo Ancelottilast_img

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