Sampdoria 0-2 Fiorentina : Viola dominate possession

Many saw this trip to the Marassi as a big test for Sousa’s team, with Sampdoria unbeaten at home so far this season. They came into the game off the back of a European tie three days prior, a trip to Poznan, albeit making a fair few changes. Bernardeschi occupied the right wing-back and Pasqual the left, seeing Roncaglia slot back into defence. Badelj came in for Suarez in the middle, and Valero moved back into the attacking midfield role, with Kalinic replacing Rossi up top. Samp took up a familiar 4-3-3, with their main danger being the pace and movement of Eder and Muriel on the break.

The match picked up quickly, with a fast-paced start, as the away side looked to use their wing-backs as an advantage, trying to provide options out wide going forward. Pasqual, in particular, got forward early on and Samp appeared to offer him too much space. Borja Valero was intent on closing down the opposition players on the ball in their own half in his section, on the left, and the home side weren’t generally allowed the space to build through midfield. However, the referee set a precedent of booking Badelj early on for tugging back Eder who was breaking away, followed by the same reprimand for Vecino shortly after. This could have been some concern for Viola, with both their central midfielders on bookings and unable to commit to risky tackles for the rest of the game. However, this never really materialised as an issue because of how Fiorentina put the emphasis of the game firmly upon their own possession of the ball, and never got in a position where they had to chase around in those areas.

The breakthrough came when Samp’s young full-back Pereira, playing for the first time on the left, was caught out of position and lost his man after Roncaglia played a long ball over the top. Bernardeschi cut in and flicked the ball up, prompting Zukanovic to inexplicably wave his arm at it and give away a penalty. Ilicic scored the resulting spot-kick, low and hard to Viviano’s left. This only served to inspire confidence into the away side, as they got men forward on the attack, and dominated possession. Bernardeschi looked dangerous coming forward down the right, on one occasion running with the ball and shooting just wide. Samp did manage to use their outlet of Muriel, as he burst away down the left, with Gonzalo booked for pulling him back at the byline, but the home side couldn’t utilise the counter at all well, and showed no great threat or intent at moving men into Fiorentina’s half. When they did pick up the ball in their own half, they were quick to pass it to an opposition player and lose any opportunity they had to catch Viola out of position.

Defensively Sampdoria seemed to struggle as well. Kalinic had a great chance to score, after a fantastic dink through from Badelj (shown in the image at the bottom, demonstrating the movement of the front two), but putting it wide of the post. The defensive line was poor – with one man out of position (yellow circled) and playing Kalinic onside. Sousa’s men continued to press high up the pitch if the opposition took too long on the ball in defence, disrupting the rhythm of the Blucerchiati, and pinning their play back. All the while, Eder and Muriel were becoming completely isolated from the play and a void would appear between them and the midfield whenever they had the ball. If anything, Viola were the more proficient on the counter, with Ilicic breaking this time, although the final pass being offside. Samp did have a brief spell where they tried to rally before half-time, as the noise from the crowd intensified. Muriel still looked lively, despite a lack of service, and he got onto the end of a long ball, after Astori failed to deal with it, but the resulting opportunity was blazed over by Baretto with a clear chance failing to materialise. All the same, it was some hope for the home side, and Fernando was trying his best to gee up the supporters.

Inter 1-0 Roma : A familiar result to return to the top

Inter started the game in familiar shape, but with Icardi missing out and Jovetic playing in the centre of attack. Perhaps controversially, D’Ambrosio started at right back for the first time this season, and Nagatomo on the other side, possibly to combat the pace of the Roma attack. Both teams looked relatively similar in shape, as you would have expected, with a 4-3-3 line-up. Garcia has somewhat transformed his side into a more counter-attacking team in recent weeks, which has worked with the pace of Gervinho and Salah, but relies less on the technical guile of players like Pjanic.


The game started at a pretty fast pace, more so than Inter’s last game against Bologna, and Gervinho had some joy in getting down the right along the byline, but failing with the delivery. Nainggolan looked to be the one dictating Roma’s play in the middle of the field, coming deeper to receive the ball at times, and playing passes around. From the start, it was noticeable that Inter were more comfortable dropping off Roma when the away side had possession in their own half. The Roma defenders could bring the ball nearly out to the halfway line unchallenged, as Mancini’s men retreated with the midfield squeezing back onto the defence to form two solid lines.

When Inter had possession, Nagatomo was predictably high up the pitch, often in Roma’s half and at times Maicon was caught out and put too much responsibility on Salah to drop back. There was an interesting battle between Digne and D’Ambrosio on the other side, with the Roma left back getting forward and trying to engineer a position to cross from. When he did manage to get a ball in for the first time, it was a decent delivery, prompting a save from a Dzeko header. Along with Maicon overlapping on the opposite flank, it looked like a good route for Roma to take and expose the Inter defence against Dzeko aerially in the box.

Inter weren’t without good movement going forward, with Ljajic and Brozovic linking up to create a chance from a cross into the box, but without the final touch. The players going forward for the Nerazzurri, tending to be the front three plus Brozovic, were roaming around a fair bit – switching sides and cutting in from the flanks. This occasionally gave them good options on the counter-attack, and looked to expose Roma’s high defensive line. With the high, flat line that Garcia’s side had adopted, it appeared as though Inter could slip through with some quick short passes and clever movement – something that Jovetic usually offers – but nothing quite materialised. It may well have been useful to have Icardi in there to play off Jovetic and try and manipulate space, which he can do well at times. Palacio came on late in the second half and, although in different circumstances, demonstrated how to play off the shoulder of the defender and work space well.

Roma did look to Salah to run with the ball, like he has done effectively so far this season, but he couldn’t really penetrate the Inter defence and Nagatomo had a very good game, getting back at him on a few occasions to stop any meaningful service from the Roma wide man. Instead it was Maicon, who’s movement coming in front the right, could have opened up a pathway to goal. As he showed a couple of times, he can get forward into good areas un-tracked, and he found himself with a free shot in the area towards the end of the first half, which was saved and pushed out to Dzeko who probably should have reacted quicker on the rebound. Dzeko looked slightly out of sorts all game, but appeared more dangerous in the air, his touch letting him down a few times. Inter were pretty poor at defending aerial balls into the box, not just against the Bosnian striker, but also from Rudiger and Manolas on separate occasions. They brought on Ranocchia towards the end, but this didn’t really seem to alleviate the problem.

Bologna 0-1 Inter : Mancini’s ten men prevail


With Inter going into the game off the back of a four-game winless streak, after the fantastic start they had, it was expected of them to cast Bologna aside and take three points. However, from the start, there were surprises in how the game developed. Firstly, Mancini left out Jovetic from the starting line-up, which was particularly strange with him having saying he needs game-time with Icardi to build up a connection. The movement of the front three – those two plus Perisic – has been a plus point for Inter at times in this campaign, but Bologna provided strong resistance to any sort of penetration by the away side from the start.


The majority of the attacking threat from the Nerazzurri, adorned in their luminous shade of yellow, came from the wings through Perisic and Ljajic. This was highlighted in the first ten minutes as the Croatian showed his pace by nipping past Massina but then not being able to get the cross in. This was a theme of the first half – not Perisic being able to beat his man, but the failure to provide any decent service into the box. Santon was available for an overlap on the right, but was used too little. The game became compacted in the middle inside Bologna’s half, as they effectively had a ‘screen’ of midfielders in front of the defence, and Inter couldn’t open up the opposition enough to expose space down the flanks. The home side probably had the edge – and formed one notable chance from a very good long ball, which Mounier failed to get on the end of. Mancini’s team looked flat, and in need of the creative threat and individual skill required to unlock the door – one in which Jovetic would presumably have been looking to provide had he been on the pitch.

Kondogbia was possibly Inter’s best player in the first half, whilst not doing anything spectacular, he demonstrated his ability on the ball, willingness to engage the opposition and mobility in moving up and down the centre of the pitch alongside Felipe Melo. However, as we’ve seen already this season, Kondogbia is prone to a booking, which he duly picked up just before half time. This restricted him in his role in centre-mid and put more reliance on Melo to be positionally aware… until the Brazilian got himself sent off. It was possibly harsh – good skill from Rizzo to pop the ball through his legs, and the Inter midfielder couldn’t, or wouldn’t, shift out of the way quickly enough. This changed the game completely. The problem with Melo’s red was that Mancini was looking like he was getting ready to bring on Jovetic, but had to alter his plans. As it happened, Bologna’s ‘screen’ broke down, and what was once an organised station of red defence became a mix with gaps opening up between the lines. This allowed Inter to move the ball infield more and stretch the home side’s midfield and defence around.

Inter’s goal came from two mistakes by the home side, which was unfortunate because they were still in with a chance of making it a really good game. Gastaldello misplaced a simple short pass which was picked up by Perisic and found its way to Brozovic. He played a ball through the middle which Ferrari let slip past to Ljajic, who was able to square for Icardi to tap in. Although the errors resulted in the goal, Bologna were surprisingly exposed for the first significant time in the match. Although the game was opening up, Mancini’s side may well have struggled to break the deadlock without that gift. From there though, credit must be given to Inter, as they played more freely and cohesively with ten men. I think this was partly due to Bologna’s lack of defensive rigidity compared to the first half, but also much more fluid movement and control of the game from the away side, who upped the tempo. Brozovic was looking, for 5 to 10 minutes or so, that he would be forced slightly deeper alongside Kondogbia after Melo’s dismissal, but never really needed to.

Analysing Maran’s Chievo

Chievo are a great example of a team that have had a fantastic turnaround in fortunes this season, and provide a good example as to how to manage your way up the table. The recipe for a successful and consistent league campaign, at least in Serie A, has to come from two directions – hard work, mental attitude and cohesion but also to implement this correctly through tactics and disciplined training. Maran seems to have captured this plan very well this season, bringing together the emphasis on high-energy & hard-work with tactical shape and familiarity in matches.

Chievo - Football tactics and formations

Maran’s approach centres around pressing from the front – one which should be reasonably familiar – but this is broken down into sections and works well on an individual basis as well as effecting the shape of the team as a whole. A key point here is that it is the responsibility of the strikers (usually Paloschi and Meggiorini) to decide when to push up and pressure the opposition on the ball in their half, and when to drop off. The theory behind this is that no team can maintain this sort of energy and closing down for 90 minutes, and the strikers are the first point of contact when the opposing defence gain possession. If Chievo’s front men need a rest, they drop off the pressure and the midfield falls back into shape behind them. When they are ready again to press, they check that the midfield is relatively organised and if so they go and try to reclaim the ball. It sounds simple, but it is a good cue for the rest of the team to stabalise, regroup and maintain a good structure when they are defending, without getting caught open. It doesn’t all rely on winning back possession either, as the high pressing serves to hurry the opposition into making longer passes, whilst also leaving the two strikers high up the pitch for counter-attacking. Meanwhile, the midfield tend to stay in a compact diamond shape which can congest the centre of the pitch.

Centre-back Gamberini spoke during an interview that the Chievo back-line know defence starts from the front, and that the balance of play and the resulting movement of the rest of the team depend on how easy it is for the opposition to break out of their own half with the ball. He said that ‘closing doors’ and positioning is relative to the work of his own team’s forwards. Its an important concept, and although many people acknowledge ‘building from the back’ and working the ball out of defence, through midfield to the strikers in order to create chances on goal – we don’t tend to think of the reverse for the defending team. Maran’s style does really well at targeting the correct areas on the pitch as to where his side need to put the high-intensity in to try and win the ball back, taking into account things like the flow of the game, how many men are out of position and how expansive the play has become in the preceding attack.