Atalanta faced off against Hellas Verona in a clash at the Gewiss Stadium in the Serie A on Saturday the 7th December 2019. These two sides are both known for their exciting and hell-for-leather approaches within the division, and this can be thanks to both managers, Gian Piero Gasperini (Atalanta) and Ivan Juric (Hellas Verona). Many in Italy were pitching this match as the professor against the pupil as Gasperini had coached and worked alongside Juric previously in their careers, with Juric describing Gasperini as “the best coach in Italy” in the lead up to this match.
Coming into the fixture, Atalanta were coming off an impressive 3-0 away win at strugglers, Brescia. The Nerazzurri faithful would certainly have the following Wednesday’s game away at Shakhtar Donetsk in mind, however, with Atalanta needing a win to have a hope of qualify from the group stages of the Champions League. The visitors, Hellas Verona, were pretty content coming into the game with the team sitting comfortably in midtable after a predicted season-long struggle. The game against Atalanta was the last game of a very difficult run for Hellas Verona who had faced both Roma and Inter in their last three games and losing both ties.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how each managers tactics matched up together and provide an analysis of how the managers adapted to the in-game dynamics. This definitely promised to be a very tactical game in the Serie A, with both managers seeming to know each other’s principles like the back of their hands.
With Duvan Zapata still ruled out with a lengthy abductor injury, Luis Muriel led the line for Atalanta in a 3-4-3 formation, flanked by Josip Ilicic and Alejandro Gomez. With Gasperini continuing to rotate his midfielders, Marten De Roon missed out and was on the bench for this match with Mario Pasalic and Remo Freuler deputising in the two ‘8’ positions. Timothy Castagne was also preferred to Robin Gosens at left wing-back, with Gasperini preferring a right-footed player on the left flank.
The away side almost matched up against Atalanta in terms of formation, forming a 3-4-2-1/3-4-3 defensive shape which is what many expected Juric to do against his former colleague. Portuguese veteran Miguel Veloso anchored the midfielder alongside Amrabat. Juric interestingly chose Darke Lazovic as a left wing-back in this fixture who would act as the more offensive of the two wing-backs during the match.
With Atalanta’s 3-4-3 defensive shape, this enables the Nerazzurri to be aggressive and press especially in the wide areas. When initiating a pressing situation, it is important that all players shift relative to the ball and the players surrounding the ball.
As shown in the images above, the Atalanta players here are in the process of shifting horizontally to man-mark the Hellas Verona players. This allows Gomez to leave his man and press the ball carrier who then clears the ball into touch due to the lack of options around him. Conversely, this man-orientated approach can leave Atalanta vulnerable if the opposition side were adept enough to play out of the press.
Atalanta’s initial attacking organisation consisted of Gomez and Ilicic playing in the half-spaces with both wing-backs providing the width for the Nerazzurri. Atalanta’s two central midfielders, therefore, remained relatively conservative in their attacking movements to prevent the team from losing compactness when in defensive transition. However, on the half-hour mark, Atalanta found themselves 1-0 down and Ilicic signalled to the bench that his time in the match had come to an end due to an injury. Gasperini could have well made a like-for-like change and stuck with the 3-4-3.
Nonetheless, Gasperini knew something had to change as Atalanta were struggling to assert themselves in the game and gain superiority on the pitch. Malinovsky came on for the injured Ilicic and Gasperini deployed a diamond front three with Gomez now central behind Muriel and Malinovsky.
With the diamond, Atalanta’s key player, Gomez, could do what he does best and drop extremely deep in the central areas and his use excellent passing range and creativity to drive Atalanta forwards and enable them to play vertically. Gasperini made this change to overload the central areas in midfield. With Gomez’s natural tendency to drop deep and almost on the toes of the Atalanta centre backs, this now enabled Atalana’s two central midfielders to be more adventurous in their movements and penetrate the Verona defensive shape with runs beyond the defensive line (see below).
Hellas Verona’s approach
In terms of Verona’s defensive shape and principles of play, they almost mirrored Atalanta and it was uncanny how similar the sides were. This may not come as a surprise as Juric was an understudy of the Atalanta manager previously. The only slight difference between the two sides was the extent to which Verona were a lot more man-orientated in both their defensive organisation and during their transition into defence from attack.
Hellas Verona also slightly adapted to Gasperini’s aforementioned change after the first 30 minutes, with Verona’s frontman acting a little more conservative in his pressing efforts and closely patrolling the movements of the now central, Gomez (see below).
Both sides aggression a hindrance?
As previously mentioned, both sides in this match employed a very aggressive defensive plan to press the opposition when possible with the idea to force their counterparts into errors. In the first 30 minutes of the match, Hellas Verona definitely disrupted Atalanta’s attacking build-up frequently. This was shown by their PPDA (passes per defensive action) in the first half, with Hellas allowing considerably fewer passes (9.1) per defensive action than the Nerazzurri (17.4).
However, both sides encountered instances in where this aggression led to over-commitment and quality chances for the opposition.
In the image shown above, the Atalanta central defender’s aggression during transition is on full show as he charges towards the Verona player as he receives the ball, completely vacating the space left behind them. Whether this was an individual error on the part of Palomino or drilled into him by the coach, this was a common theme throughout the match and in this instance, it was to the detriment of Atalanta in this situation as Verona capitalised on the space left behind and scored.
In the sequence of images below is an example of Atalanta’s heavy man-orientation and aggression. Initially, Atalanta see an opportunity to press as the Verona midfielders first touch was heavy, a common trigger to press for defending sides. The Atalanta players then begin to close in on the player in possession and the surrounding options immediately, however, the player in possession recovers slightly who is then able to find a free teammate who then immediately spots the free man and Verona begin a promising attack in an underloaded area in terms of Atalanta defenders.
This was an interesting match-up from two very similar coaches. The match initially lacked flow and rhythm due to the aggression from both sides with both teams not really sustaining possession. Gasperini’s changes led to Atalanta growing in the game and eventually won at the death in a dramatic 3-2 win which kept their top 4 hopes alive. Verona will take many positives from this match and are definitely a side to watch for the rest of the season.
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