Atalanta Bergamo – Lazio Roma: Zapata’s Early Goal Lifts Atalanta to Sixth Place In Serie A (1-0)
Duván Zapata scored the only goal of the match after 61 seconds, as Atalanta were able to add to Lazio’s recent misery. The overall standard of play in this match was considerably poor, but targeting Lazio’s defender Wallace early in the match allowed Atalanta to come away with the win, despite Simone Inzaghi’s offensive changes.
Tactical analysis by Josh Williams.
Ahead of the match, Atalanta wanted to continue their push towards the Champions League qualification places, after winning four of their last six matches. A win for the home side would result in the gap to Lazio being closed to just one point, so there was plenty to play for.
Lazio, however, were desperate to find form, after drawing their last four league matches. Alongside those four Serie A draws, Lazio had also suffered two European defeats to Eintracht Frankfurt and Apollon Limassol. The pressure was growing on manager Simone Inzaghi, and with AC Milan one point ahead and yet to play, he had to ensure his side did not fall behind.
Gian Piero Gasperini made two changes to his team compared to the match against Udinese, with Gianluca Mancini and Josip Iličić starting ahead of Andrea Masiello and Emiliano Rigoni. Atalanta played in their nominal 3-4-1-2 formation, with Iličić playing alongside the in-form Duván Zapata.
Inzaghi employed his usual 3-1-4-2 system, with Milan Badelj the deepest of the three central midfielders. Joaquin Correa played slightly behind Ciro Immobile in attack, who played the most advanced role. In terms of personnel changes, Inzaghi also made two, by bringing in Adam Marušić and Joaquin Correa for Patric and Felipe Caicedo.
Struggles for Wallace
Throughout the match, but especially in the first half, Lazio’s right center-back Wallace struggled considerably. His immediate opponent was Zapata, and Wallace could not manage his acceleration, forward runs and unpredictable dribbling style.
Lazio played with a back three, and this meant that if Atalanta won the ball reasonably high up the field, they could feed Zapata in space immediately. Zapata often made runs into the space behind Marušić, and Wallace was then responsible for covering and stopping Zapata, with very little help. On countless occasions, Zapata beat Wallace, and this often resulted in chances for Atalanta.
Both team’s formations and positioning. Zapata’s frequent movement to exploit Lazio’s right center-back Wallace.
Just sixty-one seconds into the match, Wallace’s area was exploited by Atalanta’s left back Robin Gosens, who crossed into the box after drawing Wallace out from the central area. Ștefan Radu failed to deal with the cross, and the ball fell to Zapata, who finished from six yards. A truly terrible start for Lazio in their quest for better form.
Although this instance did not involve a direct matchup between Zapata and Wallace, it served as an early sign of things to come. The right side of Lazio’s defense appeared to be targeted, with effectively every Atalanta attack for the entirety of the match deriving from that area. Atalanta created very little on the opposite side, although this was perhaps due to the poor performance of Josip Iličić, who played as the right-sided striker.
Atalanta did not create a great deal during the match in terms of clear-cut chances, but a lot of the progression was made in the wide area next to Wallace. At one point, Francesco Acerbi moved across to deal with Zapata for a moment, and he was successful in doing so. Unfortunately for Wallace though, this was an isolated instance rather than a structural tactical switch.
Atalanta Lose Rhythm
As previously stated, all of Atalanta’s inroads were being made down Lazio’s right side, but Gasperini’s side lost the ball frequently before reaching those dangerous areas. As a result, Lazio gradually seemed to settle. As the half progressed, Atalanta sustained less and less possession, perhaps aiming to play on the counterattack with the lead in their pocket.
Normally, Atalanta can play out from the back with no little skill, but as the half progressed, not enough could be seen of that. Despite conceding possession more often, the team managed Lazio’s attacks relatively easily, with the visitors offering not enough in terms of clever attacking interplay or creativity.
In the second half, Atalanta came out somewhat revitalized, but the overall standard of the match remained poor. Both sides offered very little in terms of attacking, with poor decisions, heavy passes and sloppy touches remaining constant from both teams. This lack of control resulted in – or was due to – both sides aiming to assert their dominance on the remaining proceedings.
Very few successful passing sequences occurred during this phase of the match, with both sides almost having too much emphasis on playing the ball forward quickly. Because of this rather simplistic approach of play, no side had true control over the match. Another goal seemed highly unlikely as the ball rarely progressed beyond the middle of the pitch.
As the match progressed into the latter stages, Inzaghi changed his side in order to alter the course of the match. He substituted Wallace, Badelj and Marušić for Caicedo, Luis Alberto and Jordan Lukaku. Clearly offensive changes in terms of personnel.
In addition to that, Inzaghi changed his formation from 3-1-4-2 to a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Parolo assumed the role as the midfield pivot, with Correa playing at the tip of the diamond. Luis Alberto and Milinković-Savić played as the two outer midfielders, but both made constant forward runs, with Luis Alberto also coming deep on occasion to help with build-up.
Lazio’s 4-4-2 diamond formation, which they utilized in the late stages of the game.
However, because of the direct nature of Lazio’s play in the latter stages, largely due to desperation, the diamond formation was barely recognizable. Instead, the ball was regularly pumped into the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. with an emphasis on progressing the ball towards Atalanta’s goal as quickly as possible. The ball therefore was constantly pinballing in the central areas of the pitch, but Atalanta’s defense did a good job managing these situations. Their approach to defending Lazio’s direct late attacking was to simply clear the ball as far as possible from danger areas. Subsequently, very few of Atalanta’s counterattacks managed to stick because of their forced passing, due to the pressure to not concede in the dying moments.
In added time, Inzaghi’s side did in fact manage to score an equalizer. Arguably Lazio’s best player on the day, Acerbi, scored a late header after the ball was diagonally crossed into Atalanta’s penalty box. The celebrations were short-lived though, as VAR harshly deemed Acerbi as offside, or to be more specific, one of his legs.
Overall, Atalanta won the match by scoring the only goal after sixty-one seconds. The way in which they scored remained consistent for large periods of the match though, as the space to the side of Wallace was constantly exploited.
Lazio tried to fight back, but the general quality in the match was poor from both sides, and the match largely descended into a pinball match, with constant poor decisions being made.
Inzaghi made aggressive changes as the match progressed towards the end, and also changed his team’s formation. Those changes didn’t influence the play though, and Lazio’s attack became desperate. Inzaghi’s side did find a late equalizing goal, but it was ruled out by VAR, and somewhat justifiably ensured Lazio left with nothing.
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