Frenkie De Jong against Napoli: The overlooked masterpiece

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 On Saturday night, Barcelona played Napoli in the second leg of the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. The first tie ended in a 1-1 draw, with an away goal in favour of Barcelona. However, Barcelona put the game to bed after comfortably beating Napoli 3-1 at the Camp Nou. A header from Lenglet, a goal from Lionel Messi and a penalty from Luis Suarez sealed Barcelona’s position in the semi-finals.

One of the most attractive players in the match was the Dutchman Frenkie De Jong who played as one of two central midfielders in 4-3-3 formation beside Sergi Roberto and ahead Ivan Rakitić, the youngster made it clear he’s essential to the team.

Through this tactical analysis, we will try to review how De Jong performed against Napoli, what he has provided tactically, and some of his statistics from this match.

Frenkie’s positioning and press

Frenkie was such a fantastic player in Barcelona shape on the pitch, whether he positioned well without the ball, on the left flank especially in the first third to press on the ball-holder from Napoli midfielders.

On the score-sheet, we could see the shape of Barcelona team be like 4-3-3, and De Jong the left central midfielder, who faced the right side of the guest team which was occupied by the Spaniard Fabian Ruiz, but the Catalan side changing the formation during the game to be closer a 4-4-2 as Antoine Griezmann on the right flank, and we could notice De Jong positioning in the next example.

De Jong

Here we can see Frankie’s positioning on the left flank, where he watches the ball process with Napoli on the left side with Mario Rui who is pressed by Griezmann and De Jong still notices Ruiz.
Capture

Here we can notice to the left space on the pitch, where Frenkie positioned there in the team shape and was replacing the roles sometimes with Ivan Rakitić who played as the defensive pivot in this match.

De Jong succeeded in his defensive role during this battle, where he intercepted two balls from Napoli players and recovered four balls, and that’s why he was a great support to his team’s backline, as we will see in the next examples.

 

press5

Here we can see De Jong plays man-to-man with Fabian Ruiz, where he notes his horizontal movement to the depth of the pitch, and prevents him from receiving the pass, where the ball was with Kalidu Koulibaly.
press6
Here we can notice Frenkie pressing on Ruiz and intercepting the ball to prevent the Spanish player from making the diagonal pass towards Jose Callejon on the right side.
press 1 1

Here we can see him when Barcelona applies high pressure in the Napoli area, he is positioned on the left side and presses on right-back Di Lorenzo to prevent him from building up the game in the pressure system of man-to-man from Barcelona in that build up.

De Jong didn’t stop with the pressing roles in this match, but he showcased a great solution to his in the build-up phase from the first third.

De Jong in the build-up

De Jong was a distinguished player in the ball exit process in the first third during the team’s match against Napoli in the return leg, as he was returning to the back to be a third-back accompanied by Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique.

Returning to create numerical superiority in the stage of building play and bringing the ball out from the back to the front, expanding the stadium was a clear objective for de Jong, as we will see in the next examples.

build1

Here we see Frenkie returning to become the third player in the defence line during the build-up process, and this helps to expand the stadium and free the full-backs Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo.

His return to the middle third frees pressure on Roberto and Ivan, as he offers a progressive option for a pass.

build2

Here we see, with de Jong’s return and Rakitic moving vertically, space appears, and Roberto is free to receive the ball.

With a correct pass rate of 92% during the match, the Dutch player became the link between Barcelona’s lines and saved a lot of effort that would’ve been asked of Lionel Messi, to drop deeper as he has throughout the season.

build3 1

Here we see him positioning as a triangle head with the defence duo, as he mediates them in an attempt to get the ball out of the pressure exerted by Napoli.De Jong, in possession of the ball, would often advance to the last third of the field for offensive support, which posed a great danger.

Frenkie in the final third

De Jong had a correct pass rate in the final third of the field and reached 94%, which means his evident influence in the critical stages of attacks, which helped complete the transformation from defence to attack.

De Jong’s presence in the half-spaces gave Barcelona an advantage in finding solutions for vertical and horizontal passing, which helped the Catalan team during the goal-scoring process, and we will try to explain this in the next examples.

 

ball1

Here de Jong is looking for Lionel Messi to break the first pressure line from Napoli with Semedo advancing on the edge in the blindside.

De Jong has a great ability to get into space within the final third which made him supportive of all players, as he was key for the transitions from defence to the final third.

ball 2
Here he gets into space to lead Alba with a numerical advantage, offering the possibility of a cross.
ball 3

He did not stop here, but rather he kept following the ball until after David
Ospina saved the shot from Suarez, de Jong was waiting for the second ball to create a dangerous opportunity with his intelligent positioning.

 

ball 4

Here we notice de Jong’s breakthrough of the half-ears in the last third to become a station behind Suarez and next to Messi so that one of them moves freely behind the Napoli defence line and waits for the line-breaking passes.

De Jong has played distinctive offensive roles, the most important of which is connecting lines, which makes him crucial to Quique setien’s side.

Conclusion 

In this analysis, we tried to look at the significant role that Frenkie de Jong played against Napoli in the second leg of the 16th Round of the Champions League, in terms of positioning and ideas of pressure, his role in building attacks and even his capabilities in the last third.

Frenkie is certainly a very important piece in Setien’s chess set, as his high football IQ can be utilized in different phases of the game. With this game, Frenkie has cemented his position in Barcelona’s midfield.

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