Atalanta Bergamo – SS Lazio: Intense, Tight And Tactical Cup Final Falls Lazio’s Way (0-2)

Amidst the heated midfield duels, a tactical battle of the highest order was on display in the Italian cup final. From Gian Piero Gasperini’s failed, altered attacking setup to Joaquín Correa’s problematic false nine movements, this encounter had a lot of interesting tactical quirks. The tide never stopped turning, right until the very end.

Tactical analysis by Peter M.

Only ten days after these two sides’ last meeting – where Atalanta’s stake for a top four spot grew even stronger after beating Lazio 3-1 away – the two met once again, here, at the Stadio Olimpico – the home of Lazio and AS Roma. Lazio’s recent form pales in comparison to Atalanta’s run of thirteen games without defeat, which is why Gasperini’s men were considered clear favourites heading into this final.

There were some minor adjustments made by Gasperini for this match as Andrea Masiello returned to the back three, seeing a shift in the wing-backs. Hans Hateboer, on the right, and Timothy Castagne, on the left, were handed starting roles. Up front, one more change was put in place as Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gómez was restored the side ahead of Mario Pašalić, after being rested during Atalanta’s 2-1 home win over Genoa at the weekend.

Simone Inzaghi was slightly more forgiving with his changes from their 2-1 win over Cagliari, in which he had rested some of his key players. Felipe Caicedo, Milan Badelj, Ștefan Radu and Silvio Proto all dropped out of the side, as Ciro Immobile, Lucas Leiva, Bastos and Thomas Strakosha all took up their respective places.

Atalanta’s bright start soon fizzles out

Gasperini’s men bared no intentions of letting the occasion get to them. For starters, they played with a healthy mix of both aggression and caution, as we have gotten to know them this season. It was most clear when looking at their attacking structure, as Josip Iličić, in contrast to his normal role as a rigidly positioned striker, was now drifting in and out of midfield. Throughout the first half, he and Papu Gómez were offering short option for Atalanta’s defense and midfield.

In the opening minute, these two players closely linked to provide a way out of a tight spot in a wide area, which then saw Gómez drive and take a crack from range.

What was also prevalent in this subtle change in attacking structure was how little of the ball Iličić was seeing on his preferred side of the pitch now. The attacker accumulated fifteen touches inside the opening half hour, all of which came down the left. This was only one the predominant reasons Atalanta were quickly becoming frustrated against the Lazio defense.

Another reason was the flat structure, which made recycling the ball completely horizontal and equally readable. With no players available between the lines other than an isolated Duván Zapata, there was no way of playing past Lazio’s lines of pressure to relieve the deeper ball-holders. Because of this, Atalanta’s shape became more and more congested and progressing the ball was hard for them against Lazio’s 5-3-1-1 / 5-3-2 shape.

Lazio were focused on suffocating either side of play as greatly as possible. The striker on the side of the ball would curve his press towards Atalanta’s player in possession. The rest was doing a man-marking job, with the holding midfielder and far-sided striker remaining close to Gómez, who was frequently holding a very central role inside.

Lazio’s ball-sided defensive setup against Atalanta’s wide play, with de Roon coming deep and Berat Djimsiti pushing on.

Because of Iličić’s weakened threat and the abundantly clear caution in the attacking movements of Atalanta’s center-backs, they could not find a way to break Lazio down.

It was through these passages of play where Lazio manufactured their first good chance of the match. As the ball was shifted inwards from the left, Luis Alberto read Gómez’s intentions to turn across and dispossessed him. Joaquín Correa drove with the ball towards the box, where Lazio won themselves a corner. From it, Zapata lost touch of Francesco Acerbi, leaving the Italian with a free header that he could not keep down.

Correa overloads; Immobile exploits

For most of the first half, Atalanta looked a little unsure in the way they pressed. As always, they intended to man-mark their opponents, but having Remo Freuler push up as an attacker to replicate Lazio’s back-three left their midfield hugely exposed to second balls whenever Lazio decided to go long. To prevent this, Freuler often opted to sit back a bit more than Gasperini would have liked, causing Inzaghi’s side to have a spare man in buildup. This did not make Atalanta any less vulnerable to Correa’s deep movements, though.

The Argentine constantly dropped out of the attacking structure, without being followed by his center-back marker. And, because the advanced central-midfielders had pushed up to apply pressure to Lazio’s defense, there was much more room for him to combine in and drive into.

This also opened up the lane into striker Immobile, somewhat. Since Masiello would step out and occupy the space in front, in order to prevent time and space on the ball for Lazio’s deep and unmarked ball-holder, this left the left halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. relatively open. To exploit this, Immobile made darting runs across, but this point of access was largely ineffective, as he was seldom found.

Correa coming deep to pick up the ball, subsequently disorganizing Atalanta’s defensive setup.

Correa’s deeper movements to the ball also played a key part in Lazio’s second chance of the match, as he provided a link across to Senad Lulić. The wing-back’s in-swinging cross from the edge of the box then found the head of Lucas Leiva, who had made a clever run from deep, but couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.

Gasperini’s second half switches ensure control of the game

Having struggled through the end of the first half, only creating a few near-miss opportunities from set pieces, Atalanta’s setup was in dire need of a change. And Gasperini delivered that change for the second half.

As the legs of Lazio’s players began to wane just a little, they could not afford to remain so aggressively positioned. This played into Atalanta’s hands, who are perfectly setup to sustain prolonged periods of pressure against sides they have pinned back into their own third. What helped them was Gasperini’s decision to turn the formation into a more pure variant of 3-4-3, with Gómez positioned on the left and Iličić on the right. Now you had their two best players cutting in as they so like to do, subsequently opening spaces on the flanks for their respective wing-backs.

It was notable now that Gómez – who had only attempted one dribble in the first half – had attempted four (completing two) from this side in the opening ten minutes of the second half. This was clear after just three minutes, when Gomez’ solo play opened up a yard for him to clip it directly into Zapata, who laid it off for the clever underlap Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. of Castagne.

The pressure Atalanta were applying was really looking like it was soon to pay off. Lazio could not find a way out. From the start of the second half up until the eightieth minute, Gasperini’s men were averaging nearly sixty-percent possession.

In the seventy-sixth minute they came close. With Iličić’s presence cutting in from out wide having gravitated an extra player towards him, it left the flank on that side wide open. The Slovenian rode the challenges before finding Marten de Roon out wide – who was open thanks to Hateboer, who had rotated into Iličić’s striker position to hold off the defender. With de Roon now in a great position to cut it back, he did, and just about found the foot of the late-arriving Iličić, who just seemed to miss the ball as it passed him by.

Milinković-Savić delivers a late blow

For all the control Atalanta had in the second half, they still had not capitalized on it. When Sergej Milinković-Savić came on to make an instant impact, it would turn out to be a tough pill to swallow for all the fans that had made the trip to Rome.

Whenever Lazio had some good offense involved, it often involved Correa. Their opening goal was no exception, as Correa laid it off for Lulić, to then find Milinković-Savić’s third-man-run A passing combination between two players, while a third player simultaneously makes a run, usually in behind the opponent’s defensive line. After the initial combination, the ball is quickly played in depth for the third player to run onto. down the left flank. From that came a corner and another set piece threat. It was then none other than the Serb himself who landed the knockout blow with a header after Zapata lost sight of his marker once again.

With fifteen minutes left, one would expect Atalanta to be on the upper hand and chase an equalizing goal. Lazio were not done there however – or, should we say, Correa was not. He exploited the vast, open spaces expertly with the crucial attack of his coming on a counterattack following a low and deeply placed Atalanta free kick. After going long for the ball, he knocked it around one defender and then around Gollini before seeing it past the defender on the line, meaning Lazio went up by two and ultimately, won the cup.


This game had many ups and downs, many fierce battles and many chances coming down to set piece tussles. There were cases for both sides being the superior outfit when, really, it was an even contest, in the run of it. Classic example of a tight cup final decided by the team that gets the first goal.

Although they have lost this cup final, Atalanta must pick themselves up. Finishing fourth would be a tremendous performance. There is an important trip awaiting them in that regard, as they will have to play Juventus away on Sunday.

This cup win is a huge relief for both Lazio and Simone Inzaghi, as their eight position in the league table is a disappointment. The club can more or less relax now; they have booked their place in next season’s Europa League group stages and cannot claim a top four spot any longer.

Plots will be added to this article as soon as possible. 

Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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