Sunday was not a particularly fun day for Napoli. Not only did they lose to Juventus, but too often they looked uncreative and disjointed in midfield. It's been a growing and concerning trend of late, and it can be traced to one thing: the wrong midfield pairing.
In recent weeks, Rafa Benitez has been preferring a midfield pairing of David Lopez and Walter Gargano. In the 4-2-3-1 formation that Rafa Benitez uses, the band of two midfielders, or the "pivot," is heavily leaned on to help the defense out against transition and buildup play. In that regard, having two ball-winning midfielders like Lopez and Gargano makes a fair bit of sense, especially like a team with such a loaded midfield like Juventus.
The pivot is also heavily utilized in attack, though, and that's where things have been breaking down for Napoli. They're relied on to help link up play between the defense and attacking midfield band, especially to the central playmaker of that trio. They're also intended to serve as a safe outlet in case the attack breaks down and possession needs to be recycled.
That's where things have been breaking down for Napoli. With both Lopez and Gargano in the pivot, Napoli lack someone who can pass the ball well enough to play that supporting role. Lopez is fairly decent in basic possession and recycling, but lacks the ability to really drive the ball forward or create. Gargano... well, Gargano tries, but he's extremely sloppy with possession and passing too much of the time.
This is where Jorginho falling out of form like he has over the last couple of months really hurts Napoli, as well as Gokhan Inler's year-long desperate search for any kind of decent play. Without Jorginho's silky passes pinged all over the pitch or Inler's lung-bursting runs to carry the ball up the pitch, the pivot becomes too static and unproductively involved. That leads to Marek Hamsik having to drop deeper and deeper to pick up the ball, taking him further away from the rest of the attack, or worse, forcing the defense to bypass the pivot and start launching low-percentage long balls over the top to try and feed the attack.
Sometimes, like against Cesena, Napoli can get away with it by dominating possession and outclassing their opponents. Other times, like last weekend against Juventus, it doesn't work out so well. It certainly helps secure things a little more defensively, but leaves the attack disjointed and unsupported.
If Napoli are going to get back on to a winning track, especially with a tough run of their schedule coming up, they need to get Jorginho back in form pronto. Or, if rumors of Napoli wanting a new midfielder pan out as rumored, have it be someone who can distribute the ball rather than being a pure defender. The side needs a degree of balance and fluidity that the Lopez-Gargano pivot simply doesn't provide.
Rafa, for the love of Napoli, fix the midfield. It's not hard, you just need to change one player. Please just make it work.