Walter Mazzarri defends his constant changing of tactics at Napoli and claims they ‘deserved’ better against Milan with a bold statement. ‘I am confident we will challenge for at least fourth place.’

The coach revamped his tactics repeatedly at San Siro, moving from a five-man defence in the first half to a 4-3-3 with the introduction of Matteo Politano. Did he regret not starting with that shape?

“Milan had a ferocious pressing in the first half and fell back after the break. We did well, but could’ve done better to make the most of their dip in fitness levels,” Mazzarri told DAZN.

“I don’t think the change of system was the key to playing better in the second half, we simply did better.”

The decisive goal was scored by Theo Hernandez, who combined with Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud breaking down the left flank.

“We had worked all week on the movements to deal with Theo doing that give and go. I don’t like specifying who made the mistake, but we had prepared to deal with it and a mistake was made. It was a predictable move, because that is a classic Milan move, so we should’ve closed off the through ball earlier. That is all I will say.”

This was another disappointing result for the reigning Champions of Italy, who are now stranded in ninth place after 10 wins, five draws and eight defeats.

They are seven points adrift of Atalanta in fourth, and notably most of the teams in the race for Europe have a game in hand – the only exception being Roma in sixth. What is Napoli’s objective this season?

“The objective is to win as many games as we can. It is possible. We had many injuries, missed important players, we had a great performance tonight and did not deserve to lose.

“We proved again tonight that we played well and could’ve taken three points if things had gone our way against one of the best teams in the league.

“Many of those ahead of us have to come to Naples, so I have confidence we will challenge for at least fourth place.”

Kvaratskhelia had been moved to a more central role to make him less predictable, but it did not seem to work too well.

“He is trying to find different spaces, but wherever he goes, there are three defenders waiting for him. Sometimes the challenges can be a bit rough and that ought to be punished. When he sees there is a cage around him, he can cut to a more central role, but he also needs help from his teammates to move the others with their runs. Kvara cannot always be expected to dribble past three or four.”

Mario Rui was suspended today and Mathias Olivera made his comeback from a knee injury in the final stages.

“In modern football, a team must be able to interpret different tactical systems even during the same match. The players I managed to work with have memorised many of those movements, a three-man defence, a 4-3-3 and more.

“With a three-man defence we did well in the Supercoppa Italiana, dominating Fiorentina and then holding out for most of the match with Inter, who have a very similar shape. The principles are the important thing, not the tactical system.”

Piotr Zielinski returned to the starting XI this evening, but has been excluded from the Champions League squad list for the showdown with Barcelona.

The club insists it was not revenge for refusing to sign a new contract, but would it not be better to have Zielinski available in a short tournament where you need the best on the night?

“I already explained this, when the Champions League squad list was settled at the start of the season, we have released three players, so could only change three. It is therefore better to rely on the players who could represent the future of Napoli.

“Unfortunately, Traore arrived having recovered from malaria, he needs to rediscover his fitness and only has about 25 minutes. He is the one with the characteristics most suited to replacing Zielinski.

“This is all a fair evaluation, but Zielinski has not played that often lately and we did well in his absence. We have other options and there is no guarantee he will play the next few matches.”

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