Jonathan Wilson on Napoli v. Chelsea and the resurgence of a back 3

The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Wilson's latest blog post for the Guardian. He discusses the resurgence of a back 3 in Italian football looking specifically at how, playing with a back 3, Napoli were able to exploit Chelsea on the break in their 3-1 win in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. With Chelsea forced to score 2 goals to have a chance of advancing in the second leg at Stamford Bridge, they'll have to aggressively push men into the attack, creating dangerous space for Napoli to exploit on the counter.
"Napoli don't particularly care if the opposition dominate possession. The issue is to hold them at arm's length, prevent easy chances and then strike on the break. That's why Napoli's record is comparatively so much better against the top sides than the bottom: in a mini league of the top seven teams in Serie A they would be second, precisely because they want their opponent to take the initiative."

And that, of course, is dreadful news for Chelsea ahead of the second leg. This Napoli are by no means impregnable. They are susceptible at set-plays and even with three centre-backs they looked far from comfortable against a fairly muted Didier Drogba. The deployment of Juan Mata centrally disrupted them, his movement twice in the first half creating channels that first Ramires and then Branislav Ivanovic nearly exploited with runs from deep.

But this Napoli are devastating on the counterattack. In the second half last night, as Ivanovic advanced, pushing Juan Zúñiga, the left-back, deep, contributing to a spell of pressure in which Chelsea had five decent chances in the space of around 15 minutes, Ezequiel Lavezzi sat in the space behind him and waited for the counter. He wasted his first chance, dragging his shot wide, but after Edinson Cavani had capitalised on a David Luiz slip, he added the third goal, Ivanovic unable to get back.

That's the problem Chelsea face at Stamford Bridge in the return leg. They must take the initiative, but they must do so against a team that wants them to do exactly that."