Tactical analysis Atalanta Bergamo Fiorentina 2-1 Coppa Italia semi final

Atalanta Bergamo – Fiorentina: Papu and Iličić deliver killer blows in hard-fought Coppa Italia semi final (2-1)

This Coppa Italia semi-final second leg did not fail to deliver goals – just as it did in their 3-3 draw in the first leg – however, it did fall short of being equally as entertaining. Whilst there was still plenty of end-to-end action, much of the play was lacking fluidity in the final third, mostly thanks to the tactical adjustments made by Vincenzo Montella, who had replaced Stefano Pioli as Fiorentina manager since the first leg took place.

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.

Following a massive 2-1 victory at the Stadio San Paolo on Monday, which keeps their top four hopes alive, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta wanted to go one step further by reaching the final of the Coppa Italia. With that in mind, the manager made very few changes – just three in total – with Josip Iličić returning to the side along with Robin Gosens and José Luis Palomino in place of Mario Pašalić, Hans Hateboer and Gianluca Mancini.

On the other side of the coin are Fiorentina, who, incidentally, have not won since February. Having gone close at the Allianz Stadium against Juventus prior to this encounter, Montella also opted to make three changes, which saw Bryan Dabo, Giovanni Simeone and David Hancko depart the starting eleven for Gerson, Luis Muriel and Cristiano Biraghi.

The visitors get off to a flier

Interestingly, Montella strayed from Fiorentina’s more typical 4-3-3 shape to go with with a 3-5-1-1 formation. This way they could not only get Federico Chiesa into a central position but also manipulate Atalanta’s 3-4-1-2 shape. The hosts, under Gasperini, have always aimed to defend man-for-man, but what happens when your opposition purposely set up in a way that allows them to create a free man? Well, they can create openings more easily, which is what they did.

In the third minute, the Fiorentina defense dispossessed Duván Zapata and quickly attempted to spring a fast attack. Having been played into Marco Benassi, who played it past his onrushing presser first time, into Chiesa who had dropped vertically in front of Muriel, away from the recovering center-backs. Driving at the fast-retreating defenders, he slid a perfectly weighted ball through an inside channel as the Colombian gave the away side an early lead.

How Fiorentina were set up to avoid man-marking in transition.

The chaotic nature of Atalanta’s start to the match continued to reflect itself as, in the fifth minute, a host of loose balls following a goal kick resorted in a pinball-fashioned mix-up that saw the ball present itself kindly in front of the persistent Chiesa, however his shot was snatched at.

Settled tempo shines light on an intriguing Montella setup

Away from the madness of the opening five minutes, once the match settled down, it kept a slow and steady tempo throughout, mostly because the visitors stemmed the waves of resulting Atalanta pressure.

Keeping mostly to the same 3-5-1-1 shape they had displayed in possession, we saw a shape sometimes akin to a 4-4-2, mostly because of how each wide player operated.

On the right-hand-side, Kevin Mirallas was a wide-forward-turned-wingback as he looked to nullify the threat of Robin Gosens either as a way to relieve pressure through switching or as a back-post threat on crosses. On the left-hand-side, there was a slightly more vigorous approach as Fiorentina had clearly done their homework, recognizing that this was the home side’s preferred side to attack down.

In line with this, the midfield three bunched up to the flank as if it were in a 4-4-2 formation, the way those midfields are expected to cover that far wide. In addition to this, there would always been one striker deep helping entrap Atalanta aggressively and one much higher up, waiting to pounce on counterattacks.

In possession, the home side were finding it increasingly difficult to breakdown this aforementioned defensive unit. How they tried to break them down was similar to the ways they had done to many other opponents – through fluid movement and wide combinations.

Andrea Masiello, the wide left center-back frequently joined the attack as Marten de Roon rotated into his spot in buildup. This being one of the many positional rotations on display. In the center, Papu Gómez, rather than being an out-and-out number ten, dropped deep to create a flat midfield, which meant he could be closer to the action.

Atalanta’s frequent possession structure against Fiorentina’s 5-3-1-1 shape.

What the hosts tried to do was create the best possible positions for dangerous crosses but before that, they often tried going direct into the strikers’ feet. See, here, in the halfspaces on the edge of the box, was where Gasperini wanted the ball to be. With impending overlaps from deep, it meant a player like Iličić had three options: cut in and shoot, loft an angled ball in or play in the overlap. This left each and every defender at odds; not wanting to be caught out by committing too heavily to one choice. This is exactly how Atalanta’s equalizing goal came about.

When this conundrum was forced upon the Fiorentina defense in the twelfth minute, Iličić slid it into Papu, who was generally a poorly tracked presence throughout. The Argentine turned sharply once receiving in such a tight space and managed to draw a foul that earned his side a penalty. The Slovenian striker then converted emphatically from the spot and capitalized on Papu’s good work.

Attack was the best form of defense for Gasperini’s side, so they could search for that killer second goal. In their attempts to do so, there was a lot of ineffective, recycled play across the back four and right flank. The wide players for Fiorentina appeared to be so well-versed in how to rotate with Atalanta so that they could close down key spaces.

The problem quickly became that, not only could the attackers for the home side not provide a final ball, but the options in the box were very weak. More often than not, it was just Duván Zapata, cutting an isolated figure. As a result, players were reluctant to cross, Fiorentina defenders found it easier to shut out the ball and were thus able to force the hosts back and away from their goal.

Despite such resilience, Fiorentina still managed to let one supposedly prepared-for task take place. Iličić, again, having drawn in more than just the one defender, laid it off for the now-open Timothy Castagne, who stood up a ball to the back post as Gosens’ run finally got the better of Mirallas. Although the wingback certainly got up high off the ground, he could not get his head over the ball enough to control the weight of his nod back towards Zapata, seeing it be cleared out of harm’s way as it landed.

Second half reruns the first

Much like in the first half, Fiorentina’s start was fiery, energetic and incisive. All of which was true of their start to the second half. Having been on the end of the first one, it was now Muriel’s turn to drop into an awkward central space away from anybody. Having taken on one player, he then drew out another which left Marco Benassi free on the last line as Muriel slid him through. Albeit from a wide angle, it was a great chance to possibly score from, however, referee Pierluigi Gollini was having none of it.

Away from Fiorentina’s growing number of missed chances, Atalanta continued to struggle to find the net also – but they were struggling to find the chances. One of their more favorable routes of attack were through layoffs from the strikers into the unmarked Papu, but his shots from distance were never enough to truly test Alban Lafont.

What was enough to test him, however, was an even simpler effort. Off the back of a cleared free kick in the sixty-ninth minute, Iličić pulled it back for an unmarked Papu. As the Argentina’s effort narrowly passed a crowd of bodies and from a tight angle caught, Lafont appeared to be caught totally by surprise as his attempted parrying of the ball found its way back on its way into his own net. Devastatingly, it was 2-1 to the hosts.

Atalanta were not the only side to show weaknesses on the ball, though. Fiorentina did, too, and even more so. Whilst there was structure and some success to Atalanta’s buildup play, the fact that the extent of the away side’s previous spells featured plenty of long balls into the forward for knock-downs testified that. Barring their attempts to exploit the man-marking setup by having the wide-right attackers make sharp runs, they barely managed to get a cross in let alone create a chance.

With Montella’s side having needed two goals for over twenty minutes of the game, their response against the home side was all in all very tame and, with the fire power they possess, more than a little disappointing.


In a game where chances were few and far between, it was the side who are now winless in eleven, that will feel most let down by the end result. Atalanta were hardly at the races in this but still ran out victors, as Gasperini’s astounding season with the side from Bergamo continues to gain traction on their way to Europe.

Match plots will be added 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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