There were signs during Lazio‘s match against Napoli on Matchday 25 in Serie A that there is a formula to be followed to beat Luciano Spalletti’s dominant Napoli team.
The Azzurri came into the match with an 18-point lead over the next best challenger and they knew that they could leave the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona with a 21-point lead, a figure that is almost unfathomable in the context.
They were given a seriously tough game by their old coach, Maurizio Sarri, and it is one that future opponents might want to watch closely.
Lazio’s intensity suffocates Napoli
The way that Lazio played the first half at the Maradona against Napoli was not quite as simple as playing really high up the pitch with possession and hoping not to get caught on the counter.
The Biancocelesti were pretty much meeting Napoli halfway, but it was the intensity of their running off the ball that impressed. For a lot of this season, teams have sat off Napoli in the hopes of just seeing what they can get.
Napoli have too many good players for that to work. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia can unpick any defence and Victor Osimhen can rise higher than anyone to head in a cross, regardless of how deep the opposition are playing.
Lazio were suffocating Napoli in midfield and really taking Piotr Zielinski out of the game. Even Kvaratskhelia found himself cutting inside and getting chased around the perimeter of the box being played the ball backwards. He wasn’t given a yard to shoot or cross the ball.
Players that you don’t associate with doing the hard yards, such as Felipe Anderson, were closing their opponents down all over the pitch and it was working. With a bit more incisiveness in the final third, Lazio could have been leading at half time. They were basically playing Napoli at their own game.
Lazio’s method won’t work for everyone
The intensity from Napoli increased after the break but Matias Vecino’s wonder strike meant Lazio got their reward and had something to protect for the latter stages of the game.
The issue for the rest of Serie A is that whilst something of a method for either beating or at least almost beating Napoli was laid out, it is not one that any team can carry out.
Sarri ensures that his teams are physically fit and tactically well-drilled enough to carry out this sort of performance. He also has players capable of a moment of brilliance to get the all-important first goal, even if Vecino was an unlikely source.
The result will likely mean nothing in the outcome of Napoli’s season, but don’t be surprised if their upcoming opponents try to go toe-to-toe with Napoli in a way that the majority have not earlier in the season.