Tactical analysis Genoa Atalanta 1-2 Serie A

Genoa CFC – Atalanta Bergamo: Late Zapata Screamer Hands Atalanta Deserved Bounce-Back Victory (1-2)

Aurelio Andreazzoli’s promising all-out pressing plan was quickly subsided by the heat and Atalanta’s tiring midfield rotations. Atalanta took control of the match, yet a tactical switch finally presented Genoa with a chance to claw back some salvation, as a chaotic period of stoppage time ensued…

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M

Genoa, sitting pretty in fifth since turning out a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina at their home ground a fortnight ago, welcomed the arrival of Gian Piero Gasperini’s Champions League competitors. Clearly confident in his side’s ability, Andreazzoli named a completely unchanged eleven from tip to toe, keeping to the same 3-5-2 system in place, too.

Ten goals, featuring two 3-2 score lines (swinging either way), have made for a lively start to the 2019/20 campaign for Gasperini’s men. As ever, the head coach set out his back three setup with a slight alteration in the front three, which shifted to a flat front three, here. Elsewhere, there was one change in the form of Remo Freuler coming in to take the place of Marten de Roon, presumably for rotational purposes.

Genoa do not give Atalanta a moment’s rest

Pressing intensely in their 3-5-2 shape, Genoa were keen to get tight to every Atalanta player they could. This meant that the wide center-backs stepped out to press Alejandro Gómez’s and Josip Iličić’s persistently deep positions constantly, with the midfielders ahead covering their opposite numbers and the center-forward pairing pressing to one side, in order to match their opponents all ends up. 

For as much as the opening third of the match, it appeared to be heavily limiting Atalanta, with lots of plays out wide being broken down due to the predictability of the movements and the lack of a third-man runner. The only respite and possible escape from such extensive wide pressure was through the central center-back, Berat Djimsiti, who moved into midfield to offer an option on the blind-side of the far-sided striker, who was usually positioned narrowly ahead of his partner in order to readily press backwards circulation.

Genoa stretch the game

The home side were able to avoid a searing counterpress After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. – like most teams come up against when playing Atalanta – because of their two strikers being positioned so high up the field, in the gaps between the three central defenders. This helped to isolate Atalanta’s double pivot in transition, with the spaces between and to the sides of them being well exploited through the synchronized movements of the two strikers.

Typically, Christan Kouamé would be the nominal attacker to drop in, whilst Andrea Pinamonti made runs into depth as a follow-up. Although the lack of horizontal compactness from Atalanta’s midfield (in all phases) left the route into Kouamé open, the next pass was almost always a failure. Either, it was too difficult to lay it off short and accurately for a nearby teammate, or his pass onto Pinamonti was too close to feet. Because, by that point, the defenders could read the plan of action on the break, the lack of balls into space for Pinamonti made it hard to release themselves of the intense man-to-man conditions they were struggling through.

With the lacking success of Genoa’s counterattacks, it was not long before Atalanta got flowing and began to pull apart the Genoa shape in ways that meant they were forced to reconsider the level of the pressure they applied. As Iličić and Gómez dropped deeper and deeper to receive in either 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 the 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. – often feeding it into one another – it perfectly drew out their respective center-back markers right alongside the opposing central midfielders. Those central midfielders were then used to fill the holes in the shape by having them make runs from deep. In the ninth minute, Freuler’s run into the open left channel dragged across Genoa’s holding midfielder, enabling Gómez to cut in and play a pass right through the vacant center into Duván Zapata. His layoff found the supporting inside run of Iličić to create a decent shooting position on the edge of the box.

Atalanta using runs from deep to create gaps in Genoa’s shape.

The access into the two deeper, talismanic creators was rapidly increasing, with the timed runs of the wing-backs and positioning of Zapata in either halfspace ahead of them, enabling overloads as the pair dropped in from behind Genoa’s central midfielders. Additionally, Djimsiti was called upon more and more, helping to shift play across and forward when necessary. 

The match was still tight by the half hour mark but there were creeping signs that Atalanta were starting to truly get the better of the Genoa setup. The home side’s biggest issue came via their opponents’ blind-sided movements for the ball.

First, Robin Gosens, in from his left-wing-back position, looped around the back of Genoa’s defense to fill a hole in the shape. Ahead – and due to the nature of the strikers being detached from the midfield, meaning there was now a lot of space in front of the 5-3 defensive organization – Mario Pašalić stepped up to receive in the central zone in front of the defense, before trying to find Gosens’ open position inside the box. If not for an overhit pass, it could have been an even better chance for him.

Genoa drop off in attempts to cool the flow of Atalanta chances

It took a while, but right towards the end of the first period, Genoa’s center-backs started to back off Atalanta’s inside forwards. First time of asking, it seemed to work for Andreazzoli as, although Gómez was freer to receive between the lines, when he drove inside trying to find Zapata just wide of his center-back, he was crowded out, leaving the ball-carrier with no further options. However, if they thought laying off pressing onto such a competent possession side would solve their problems, they were sorely mistaken. Getting trapped in your own half by this side is the last thing you want.

Carrying on into the second half, the only notable change for Genoa came in the form of the right-wing-back, Paolo Ghiglione, taking up a more advanced position looking more like a winger than anything else. Consequently, though, this only backfired as Gómez was then free to receive wide behind him and away from his opposition’s central midfielders. 

Soon, Atalanta were able to make the most of these tired legs. On the hour mark, substitute Luis Muriel, in from the right, had time and the gap to field a flat switch into Gosens as the midfield was still all over the place. One-versus-three, Zapata managed to receive off the back of the Genoa central defenders from the cross, before turning and being brought down before he could get a shot away. Although this was initially waved away, a review from VAR in the next break of play made it clear to the referee that it was indeed a penalty. Muriel was the main candidate to take on the spot kick, which he did, then coolly converting to give his side a merited one-goal lead.

Andreazzoli’s final throw of the dice pays off… almost

Into the final ten minutes now, the Genoa head coach brought on Peter Ankersen and Goran Pandev in a switch to a 4-4-2 diamond formation. 

Although Genoa had the ease of playing directly into the forwards dropping to the midfield, there was never a stable connection to keep it high, so the addition of a number ten to exploit the central gap was a welcome one. The impact it had was very positive as Pandev dropped in to receive and also moved wide to take on the ball free of anyone else. 

The wide central midfielders were now in much more threatening positions – pulling apart Atalanta’s double pivot and making inside runs through the channels.

Pandev dropping in as the number ten to break the lines.

It did not take much but Genoa finally got an equalizer in the ninety first minute. The step up in intensity meant they closed down defensive spaces better again, which saw them turnover the ball here to as Ankersen beat Gosens down the line and Lerager’s run through the halfspace was untracked by Atalanta’s midfield – who were guilty themselves of being slow to pick up certain players’ runs throughout the second half. On the cutback, Kouamé took on the ball and touched it past Djimsiti, who proceeded to knock him down. With no other option, the referee pointed to the spot where Criscito deliver what appeared to be a killer blow.

A tempo-less end to stoppage time saw Genoa revert to a 3-5-2 formation but that proved to be more costly as it gave back up space into those inside attackers between the lines again. Skip to the final forty seconds and this is exactly what has been loosely exploited by Atalanta. Once de Roon had received and carried it forwards, he laid it off for Zapata who took one touch out and struck the most thunderous strike that rattled in off the underside of the bar.


An intriguing tactical battle resulted in an enthralling end with the perfect finish to cap off a solid Atalanta performance. Gasperini can be pleased with his side as they set off to face Dinamo Zagreb in midweek. Cagliari will have to wait until Friday to try and bounce back but four points from three big opening tests is nothing to sneeze at.

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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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