Stadio Mapei hosted a clash of two opposing tactical styles of play between Sassuolo and Parma this weekend. This tactical analysis will break down the match which ended 1-0 to Parma.
The match saw one side create plenty of opportunities but fail to finish off any of them. Sassuolo, led by Roberto De Zerbi, looked to dominate possession with short passing and attacks down the left side. These tactics have been a staple of the Neroverdi’s play this season, to an indifferent effect. De Zerbi is a young manager still learning his trade in Serie A, looking to create possession-oriented sides in order to frustrate their opponents. Parma, managed by Roberto D’Aversa, have impressed with the clinical nature of their counter-attacking play this season. This analysis will dive deeper into this game, and the wastefulness of one side.
Parma set out in a 4-3-3 formation which looked to utilise their pace on the break. D’Averso’s side was fronted by Gervinho, Andreas Cornelius, and Luca Siligardi. Gervinho has returned from injury after a spell out, and back in the starting XI his manager would look to use his pace down the left flank. The aim of their attacking play was to use their dribbling abilities down the flanks, to get the best out of Gervinho specifically.
Regarding the defensive shape, D’Aversa had a defensive midfielder, Gastón Brugman, operating the space in front of the two centre-backs, Simone Iacoponi and Bruno Alves. Sassuolo’s defence has looked shaky at best in Serie A this season, conceding 39 goals in just 24 games.
Sassuolo played a 4-2-3-1, with De Zerbi hoping to frustrate their opponents by restricting their amount of time on the ball and forcing them into defensive errors. Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga were the wide attackers looking to support the lone striker Francesco Caputo. Boga found himself pushing further forward than his wide compatriot, Berardi, acting as a second striker on many occasions during the match. The man tasked with most of the chance creation was Filip Đuričić, who sat in the #10 role, backed up by Manuel Locatelli and Pedro Obiang. Locatelli was the man to provide the deep progressions up the field with his passing whilst Obiang was tasked with buzzing up and down the pitch, putting in defensive and offensive work. It was very clear that De Zerbi’s side would start their attacks through Locatelli, often progressing the ball up towards Sassuolo’s star man Berardi. He was looking to add to his 14 goal contributions in Serie A this term.
As always with Parma, they looked to exploit the space in behind, with the aim of completing counterattacks throughout the 90 minutes. After this result, Parma find themselves sitting in 7th position in Serie A, so we can understand that this has worked to great effect this campaign. Specifically, regardless of the personnel, they look to regain possession in their own half and from there use direct passing to get the ball further up the field. In this match, Hernani was particularly good at fulfilling this role, showing great tenacity in his defensive efforts. Throughout the 90 minutes, he provided five tackles and interceptions and was one of the few players in the Parma side who actually looked the part. As they tend to do, Parma looked to avoid a midfield battle. With long, direct passes, their aim was to avoid that engagement and attack down the flanks at speed.
There were multiple occasions where Parma did exactly as stated above throughout the match. First, on this occasion, we see Jasmin Kurtić nick the ball off of the Sassuolo attacker. He then continues to dribble with the ball up the pitch, taking advantage of the opposition’s positioning on the field. Once he enters the opposition half, Kurtić passes the ball towards Cornelius, who finds himself drifting wide.
In this position, Cornelius can either dribble further towards the by-line or whip a ball into the box to one of his two teammates. In this scenario, he decides the latter, and whips in an early, and excellent, driven cross towards Gervinho. The Ivorian coolly converts past Andrea Consigli, to make it 1-0 to the Parmigiani, and manages to finish one of their only chances during the 90 minutes.
In another instance, we see this fast and direct style of play encounter again in a slightly different scenario. In this analysis, we again see Jasmin Kurtić regain possession of the ball in his own half and immediately looks to hit Sassuolo on the counter. He attempts to do this by playing a long pass towards Cornelius, taking out two or three Sassuolo players in the process. This continues the attack down towards the left flank, which eventually leads to a sloppy piece of play in the box where they almost lose the ball. Instead, it ends with a half-volley chance that is hit just over the bar.
Other than these two scenarios, chances were few and far between for Parma. In fact, no other chances were truly worth noting, as they really struggled to create chances in this game with extremely limited time on the ball. However, Parma are effective at creating threatening goalscoring opportunities from counterattacks, and this was evidenced by Gervinho’s goal. Luckily for them in this game, it was the only goal they needed to earn the three points. They mustered a pitiful seven shots in total during the match, and this needs to improve in order to increase their goalscoring capabilities for the rest of the season. In this game, they also committed a high number of individual errors, which they were nearly punished for on many occasions.
Sassuolo’s style of play
Throughout the course of this season, De Zerbi has chosen a variety of different formations in his matches. Nonetheless, his tactical style remains the same in each game, with his side looks to dominate possession. Through this, they have maintained an average of 55% possession across all their Serie A games this season. This is the fourth-highest figure in the league, and they largely have Locatelli to thank for this figure, who has been great this campaign. Further analysis will be compiled on Locatelli later in this tactical analysis, as he shined in this game. De Zerbi looked to take advantage of individual skill in order to create goalscoring opportunities. Here, you can see how Sassuolo looked to create their greatest chances.
Parma were happy for Sassuolo to keep possession of the ball, instead of deploying a high press to block the passing lanes. Sassuolo kept a high amount of possession (70%) in this game through their use of short passing. Nonetheless, these short interplays did not lead to many opportunities of high quality.
In this instance, we see Obiang intercept a poorly timed pass by a Parma defender, one of the individual errors we mentioned earlier. Immediately he looks to offload the ball to one of his teammates, which we can imagine is a tactical instruction from his manager, where he is discouraged from dribbling and rather, he opts for a pass. Đuričić receives the ball but he is already receiving pressure and therefore instantly spins and passes towards the number nine, Caputo.
In the same passage of play, Caputo continues dribbling with the ball and approaches the six-yard-box. He notices that Colombi is creeping towards his right and decides to aim his shot towards the bottom left corner, which is the correct decision. On this occasion, it is his composure which lets him down from finishing what is a great opportunity. Instead of slowing down before striking the ball, which would be advisable in most scoring opportunities, he strikes the ball whilst still in motion, leading to a miss-hit. The ball spurns wide and goes for a goal kick to Parma.
Later on, in the game, we start to see the frustration of Sassuolo come out in their attempts from range. In the second half, De Zerbi realised that his team were struggling to break down the Parma deep block and encouraged his players to begin to shoot from range. In this image, we see Locatelli receive the ball on the edge of the opposition’s box and his eyes lock with the top right corner. It is a great long-range effort which is deflected onto the bar by the keeper and cleared away by the Parma defence. This was the method of attack which Sassuolo favoured during this match, particularly in the second half, and they were unlucky not to score in this game because of it.
Sassuolo mainly tried to break down Parma’s deep block through a sequence of short passes. They wanted Parma to press them whilst they were on the ball, dragging their defenders out of position in the process. Whilst this is happening, other Sassuolo players would make runs their own runs, just like the one seen above by Caputo. They kept possession well, but what is possession for possession’s sake? It is important to take advantage of your time on the ball and that is not something that Sassuolo managed in this game.
Locatelli; a loss for AC Milan?
Considering the league position of Milan this season, we could argue that it would not go amiss to have Locatelli in their squad. He joined Sassuolo from Milan this summer for a fee in the region of £9 million. His performance against Parma was the most notable on the pitch, in a game that refused to provide any clinical nature in the final third. For the majority of this campaign, he has been the fulcrum of his side, often starting his team’s attacking plays from deep.
Here, Locatelli picks up the ball centrally and pings a long ball forward to find the run of Caputo. Bruno Alves (aged 38!) manages to keep pace with the forward and block off a large portion of the goal. Impressively, Caputo still manages to take the shot and it hits on target but is saved by the goalkeeper.
Locatelli was heavily involved throughout the match and this is reflected kindly in the stats. He managed a staggering 127 touches in the game, 17 more than the next best on the pitch. This shows just how vital he is towards their midfield dominance in this game and many others this season. He completed 20 passes into the final third, which is indicative of his efforts to create chances from deep. To show for this, he completed three key passes, combined with two dribbles, showing off his ability to evade pressure. Defensively, he completed three tackles, which is a solid display considering this was an auxiliary duty.
Locatelli is still young at just 22 years of age, and he has plenty of room for growth. He is already an accomplished player for a club that is ultimately struggling in Serie A. Perhaps the tactical style suits him heavily, but if he could not complete the roles as competently as he has been, Sassuolo could be in deeper waters by this point. If he continues these performances, we could see him take the leap to a club competing in either of the UEFA competitions.
Overall, we can see that Sassuolo were slightly unlucky to lose this game, as they should have scored at least one goal. This was reflected in the Expected Goals metric, which leaned 1.25 to 0.81 in favour of the home side. Sassuolo do make for an interesting prospect this season. Their ability to keep such a high amount of possession is promising, and De Zerbi is trying to utilise the greatest assets of his best players such as Locatelli, Berardi, and Boga. De Zerbi will be upset with the lack of clinical finishing in this game, but he will understand every player has their off day in front of goal, and today was that day for Caputo. D’Aversa will be very happy that his men are competing for Europa league positions in Serie A, but he will also understand that there is still a portion of the season to go, so his men must stay focused.