The 4-4-2 Pitfall Evident in Sampdoria vs Napoli [Quick Take]

As often discussed, the 4-4-2 is both a classic and still highly utilized formation in football, benefited by clear roles and a simple structure. However, it is also a setup that risks a fair deal of overexposure. The recent match between Napoli and Sampdoria evidences this balance to perfection.

For the first portion of the game, Sampdoria dominated possession and dictated tempo. With crisp forward-back-forward passing often culminating in dangerous crosses, the hosts looked the more likely side to score. Napoli, once having won the ball back in their defensive third, were principally limited to long passes to (or towards) their center forward, sent in with an obvious disclaimer that supporting attackers would be sparse and slow to catch up. Despite this, Victor Osimhen linked up well with Insigne and found the opener. But it was the tactical drift that occurred next which ushered in the ultimate, not-so-close-after all 4-0 score line.

As stated, for the first portion of the match, Napoli were starting their attack from deep within their own half and Sampdoria’s back line took up high positions to try and contain them. Napoli settled for hopeful long balls which most often resulted in a change in possession and yet another wave of Sampdoria attacking pressure. But as the half dragged on, Napoli gradually increased their possession in the middle third of the field. And by the half hour mark, Napoli’s 4-3-3 was finally able to assume its attacking shape; Sampdoria did not condense their 4-4-2 defensive shape well enough in response, catalyzing their collapse. As Napoli passed and moved, the space between Sampdoria lines grew, which we see quite clearly in the second goal: a simple pass from Napoli goalkeeper to a remarkably unmarked advanced midfielder cut between Sampdoria midfielders and defenders with ease and kicked off a brief but effective attacking sequence… 2-0. Napoli’s two other goals boasted similar properties, as the play between lines quickly became too much for Sampdoria to slow or close down.

Ultimately, this is the risk of a 4-4-2. The flat lines, though wonderfully spring-loaded in possession, can be broken and bypassed by composed, skillful opposition. Most sides employing a 4-4-2 compensate for this risk by condensing the space they must defend as significantly as possible, either setting up shop in their own defensive third (“parking the bus” so to speak) or opting for a high press (which may look a little like an “offside trap”). As seen in the quintessential case of Napoli vs Sampdoria, failure to do so can result in scoreboard catastrophe.


Fox in the Box – Mastermind Monthly Magazine – September 2021

In this month’s edition…

-> RB Leipzig 6-0 Hertha Berlin – Tactical Analysis
-> How Ruben Dias Became City Captain
-> Why left-sidedness exists in football
-> All episodes of the Longball Preview Show
-> All episodes of Futbol Masterminds
-> Top 100 Footballers of September 2021
-> Q&A



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