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Thursday, December 15

Anatomy of a Goal: Cavani's Winner

A look at Edinson Cavani's second goal in Napoli's 2-1 victory over Manchester City which essentially eliminated the Premier League leaders from the Champions League.

Scoring both of Napoli's goals against Manchester City in a 2-1 victory on Tuesday, Edinson Cavani pushed Napoli a point clear of the very same Premier League leaders in Group A of the Champions League, leaving the Partenopei only needing a win at Villarreal to guarantee themselves a place in the knockout rounds of Europe's top competition.

Of particular interest is the second of Signore Cavani's goals.  Coming in the forty-ninth minute, Cavani punished a cross from a sliding Andrea Dossena, both ultimately delivering the final margin and breaking his own scoreless streak stretching back almost a month.

Had City defended better, however, their hopes for advancing might not have to now rely on winning at the Group A-leading Bayern Munich and needing Napoli to not grab full points at a diminished and marginal Villarreal during the next set of fixtures.

The diagram to the left shows the positioning of the players upon Cavani receiving his first touch of the second goal's build-up.

Having a step on De Jong -- but not enough of them to race past and draw one of City's back defenders out, even if he had the pace to -- Cavani patiently advanced the ball, giving his support more time to get into their own advanced positions.

Of immediate note:
-- Dossena, unmarked, with space ahead
-- Kompany, no one to mark
-- Yaya Toure behind play

While City has 3 v 2 at the back -- with Pablo Zabaleta marking Ezequiel Lavezzi, Joleon Lescott having Marek Hamsik covered and Vincent Kompany roaming free-- they don't have a clear way of dealing with Dossena marauding down the left flank.  Kompany, sans a duty, could rotate over to Lavezzi, allowing Zabaleta to wait for Dossena, but that creates quite the space for Lavezzi to run onto for a through-ball.  Kompany could also come out for Cavani, allowing Nigel de Jong to ferry Cavani along then make way to Dossena, but this approach is also a nonstarter, given the moving parts, the distance said parts would need to travel, and the still not-insignificant space and window for a through-ball to Lavezzi.  Ultimately, Kompany plays it right: keeping between Zabaleta and Lescott as their markers advance down the pitch.  With De Jong giving chase to Cavani and Toure charging in, the danger of the unmarked Dossena can be absorbed.

To the right, though, is the position of the key principles once Cavani, having been contained by De Jong, passes off to Lavezzi.

Of immediate note:
--Dossena, still unmarked
--Kompany, still without a mark
--Toure, still behind play
--Zabaleta having to keep Lavezzi wide

With Toure lagging, a Dossena overlap is now a real concern for City.  With Kompany free, however, solutions still exist:
--Kompany, De Jong and Zabaleta all rotate: Kompany to Cavani, De Jong to Lavezzi, Zabaleta to Dossena once De Jong arrives
--Kompany rotates to Lavezzi, allowing Zabaleta to pick up Dossena
--Kompany heads wide to intercept Dossena himself

The other alternative is Kompany stays central, leaving De Jong to follow the ball to Lavezzi, allowing Zabaleta to pick up Dossena, and leaving Cavani to the closing Toure.  This maintains the structure of the defense and, with an incoming James Milner, has bodies ready to pack the box.  This is the solution City went for.

To the left, we see De Jong leaving with the pass (the white arrow) to have Lavezzi handed off to him by Zabaleta, who then will attempt to cut off Dossena's run.  So far, so good.

But Toure still hasn't put himself in the play.

Of immediate note:
--Zabaleta, from almost standing still, will have to pick up an almost sprinting Dossena
--Lavezzi's choices of playing it back to Cavani or attempting to spring Dossena free
--Cavani, unmarked, with space to move into

Toure still being behind the play has left Kompany in the unenviable position of having to choose between providing cover for a probable-to-be-beaten Zabaleta or leaving the box to pick up Cavani.  Picking up Cavani is not an awful option, but assuming Toure finally injects himself into the ongoings, Zabaleta is left alone.  Picking up Dossena, with Lescott able to cover since the barely-out-frame Kolarov is in good position, might make more sense, given Toure's poor closing.

What Kompany couldn't have done, but ultimately decided to do, was nothing.  He kept dropping back.  Cavani had the most dangerous of spaces to move into, Dossena was able to beat Zabaleta to Lavezzi's pass at the edge of the penalty box and, with Kompany almost standing on the six-yard box, had a clean path for a cross to Cavani who Toure still hadn't closed on.

While Toure deserves the lion's share of the blame for the goal from Cavani's resultant shot, Kompany couldn't just stand there.  Yes, regardless of his choice, danger still would have existed -- either in the form of Dossena going across the face of goal had Kompany marked Cavani, or Dossena still finding a way to complete the cross to Cavani -- but the probability for a Napoli goal -- and City's elimination from the Champions League --would've been lessened.


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