Italian striker Ciro Immobile has been involved in a fair share of transfers having played for 9 different clubs throughout his career. At 27 years old Immobile made the move to Lazio for 8.5 million euros. Four seasons and 116 goals later, it is safe to say he has found his place in a Lazio team that is enjoying unprecedented success in a tactical system in which Immobile himself, is thriving.
Utilised as one of two strikers in a 3-5-2 formation, this season Immobile has scored 27 goals in 26 matches in Serie A averaging 1.05 goals per 90 minutes and 0.77 xG (expected goals). 16 of those have come from inside the box, one from outside the box, and 10 penalties, leading the race for the golden boot in Serie A in front of Cristiano Ronaldo with 21 goals, and Romelu Lukaku with 17 goals.
This tactical analysis/scout report is part one of three pieces that will unpick the goalscoring situations these three strikers have scored from in open play in Serie A this season. Each piece will conclude with a finishing practice for coaches to use with their players. We start with Lazio’s talisman and the top scorer across Europe’s top five leagues Ciro Immobile, and dissect his innate ability to finish ‘through the gaps.’
Positioning, shot attempt location, shot target distribution
Immobile largely operates on the left side of the attacking third, and box, commonly opening up his body to finish with his favored right foot (which suits Filippo Inzaghi’s tactics). His heat map pictured below highlights two notable yellow/orange areas both on the left side of the pitch; outside the box where he aims to receive the ball between the midfield and defensive lines, and inside the box where he is a lethal finisher who averages 5.11 touches in the box per game.
In regards to shot attempt location (pitch distribution – see below left) Immobile attempts 3.87 shots per game with 49.5% on target. Predominantly, Immobile locates himself in the central section of the box (31.9%) where analysis has shown 80% of goals are scored from in Europe’s top five leagues, or on the left side of the box (24.2%). His shot direction (on target distribution – see below right), indicate that he attempts to keep his shots low, which accounted for 53.7% of his shot attempts.
Interestingly, when taking into account that Immobile’s finishes often come from the left side of the box with his right foot, he seems to prefer finishing past the keeper’s near post pictured below (23.4%), as opposed to across the goal where strikers may more commonly finish from in that position, (14.7%).
Finding the gaps, finishing with the defender ‘in front’
What is also fascinating about Immobile is his ability to ‘find the gaps’ and shoot through, between, and around defenders without having to beat them in a 1 vs 1 situation. Evident in the picture below, this scenario is one Immobile finds himself in often. There is minimal space in behind to run past the defender, and if attempted could result in a tighter angle from which to shoot from. Subsequently, Immobile opts to finish between the defender’s legs, into the gap between the goalkeeper and his near post.
Immobile’s ability to ‘freeze’ the defender in an open stance for a split second before picking his spot through or around their legs is second to none. What’s more, when finishing through the gaps, it is evident that the view of the goalkeeper is significantly impacted by defenders and opposition players, thus giving them little time to react to a shot coming through a crowd of players as pictured below.
Intelligent forward runs coupled with composed finishing wreak havoc
Although much improved in possession this season, Lazio’s tactics continue to afford ample opportunities to counterattack which favors Immobile who makes intelligent runs and is a composed finisher. In an interview earlier this season, Immobile stated, “Finding the right space between the defensive line and the goal is fundamental.” It is clear this is something he looks for relentlessly, initiating his runs from varied positions within the opposition half. In the example below there is a clear entry into the final third centrally as Immobile’s diagonal run is matched with a diagonal through ball into space in front of him.
The intelligence and detail in Immobile’s runs are worth analysing. In the picture below on a Lazio counterattack, Immobile makes a penetrating run centrally, running off the centre-back’s shoulder diagonally first to create separation between him and the defender. Once the pass is played he instantly shifts into a straight-line run to arrive onto the ball taking it beyond the defender and into the final third.
Anticipation in the box
Immobile does not find himself in the right place at the right time by chance. His recognition and appreciation of his teammate’s movement and his anticipation of where the ball will land as a result is of the highest level. This is evident in the picture below where Immobile stands, man-marked from a corner. Immobile’s starting position and the runs of his teammates to the near post allow the space highlighted by the yellow circle to remain vacant.
Before the ball has even been flicked on Immobile comes alive already creating separation between himself and the defender (see picture below) who is caught ball watching, and attacks the vacant space in the six-yard box as the ball is flicked on.
In a split-second, Immobile has got onto the end of the flick-on and finishes into the roof of the net (see picture below).
Finish like Immobile…
Commonly, coaches focus on shooting/finishing practices which predominantly consist of shooting into the goal from distance at a variety of angles with a goalkeeper and no defenders in front; or closer range finishing in 1 vs 1 scenario with the intention to beat the defender and score against the goalkeeper. As highlighted previously, scoring through, between, and around defenders is a trademark of Ciro Immobile’s finishes and a skill that may rarely be included in practice.
In order to create a representative practice to work on ‘finishing through the gaps’, key information that influences Immobile’s decision making in these situations must be preserved. The key information here that must be included is highlighted in red (non-negotiable), and in orange representing more variable information that could be manipulated.
Below we can see Immobile in possession of the ball (yellow circled) moving from left to right. The distance between Immobile and the goal, the goalkeeper’s position, and defender one ‘in front’ have all been highlighted in red as the information which influences Immobile’s decision the most. Defender two ‘trailing’, and defender three ‘closing’ (orange) are also important variables that could be manipulated within the practice but may influence Immobile’s decision less than the red variables.
The picture below highlights Immobile’s decision to finish through the defender and past the goalkeeper’s near post.
Based on the above information, a finishing practice was created in order to help coaches work on finishing with the specific intention of developing player’s ability to ‘find the gaps’ and finish through, between, and around defenders.
The rules for the practice in the diagram below are: the attacking player (blue) must finish within the ‘golden zone’. Defenders (red), aim to block the shot, and if the ball remains in play, find the coaches feet, or play into a mini-goal located in wide areas. The ‘golden zone’ is wide, but fairly narrow, in order to reduce space in behind the defenders and encourage attackers to ‘finish through the gaps’ as opposed to attempting to dribble past the defender 1 vs 1.
In picture one (see above – left), defender number six ‘trailing defender’ at the top of the screen begins with the ball. A pass is played into the space in front of the blue attacker who runs onto the ball and enters into the golden zone. As the ball travels, the defender ‘in front’ (number two) enters the golden zone and attempts to block the shot.
On the attacker’s first touch in picture two (see above – right), the trailing defender must run around the two red cones (either side – varied angles) and attempt to close down the blue attacker.
In picture three (see above – left), the blue attacker attempts to finish through, between, or around the defenders into the goal before being tackled. Players then return to their start position. Work through five attempts each before switching roles, practice on both sides of the box, left to right and right to left.
Option two (see diagram above – right), could be used as another scenario where although the defender ‘in front’ remains, there is now a defender ‘closing’ from left to right instead, whilst the coach (C) feeds the ball into the blue attacker from the same start position as the previous practice. Manipulating the distances and angles of the defenders in this practice will be key.
With a career that was not always tipped to reach the heights which Ciro Immobile has attained this season, it is safe to say that he is a fan favourite at Lazio. Although his form may attract some of Europe’s biggest clubs, Lazio will like their chances of keeping Immobile as they sit second, one point off Juventus and comfortably occupying a Champions League spot. If Immobile can continue his unprecedented scoring form in Serie A, the first title for over 20 years for the Eagles may be on the cards.