Sampdoria – Atalanta Bergamo: Giampaolo Fails To Shut Down Atalanta’s Right Side (1-2)

In a battle of two attractive Serie A teams and two highly rated managers, Atalanta Bergamo proved worthy winners because of the quality chances they created, especially in the second half. The tactical battle provided a very clear danger zone to attack in this game for Atalanta. After not exploiting it enough in a rather uneventful first half, they first hit the post and then scored the winner from that particular zone after the interval.

Tactical analysis and match report by Cem Soylu.

Both teams started the game in their usual formations; Sampdoria with a 4-4-2 diamond shape and Atalanta in a 3-4-1-2 formation. Sampdoria manager Marco Giampaolo made two changes compared to last weekend’s win away at SPAL. He picked Nicola Murru at left back instead of right back Bartosz Bereszyński, which saw Jacopo Sala move back to his favored right back position. Furthermore, Albin Ekdal started at the bottom of the diamond instead of Ronaldo Vieira.

Atalanta’s only change from the 3-1 victory over Fiorentina was Hans Hateboer at right wing-back over Timothy Castagne. As it would turn out, the Dutch defender would proved to be the key player in this game, along with Josip Iličić. The two teams are both involved in a heated battle for the European spots in Serie A, with only two points between seventh-placed Atalanta and ninth-placed Sampdoria going into the game.

Atalanta’s 3-4-1-2 man-to-man orientation when Sampdoria (4-4-2 diamond) was in possession.

Atalanta’s man-to-man orientation and Sampdoria’s struggle to build up

Atalanta is a very offensive team, and in this game, their approach was proactive as ever, applying high pressure right from the kick-off. What was interesting about Atalanta’s pressure in this particular game was that manager Gian Piero Gasperini chose to assign each player man-to-man instructions, as shown in the formation graphic above.

The nature of the two formations on display in this match makes it easier to opt for this approach. It was particularly interesting how sweeper Berat Djimsiti played very tight to Sampdoria’s number ten Riccardo Saponara and followed him tight into the deeper positions, which meant Atalanta had no spare man at the back. Gasperini trusted his players to win their one-on-one battle with their opponents, particularly due to Sampdoria lacking pace up front. Sampdoria experienced a lot of difficulties playing out of that pressure and instead tried to find Fabio Quagliarella and Manolo Gabbiadini with long balls, often to poor effect. Atalanta’s defense was very comfortable with dealing with those balls.

In this man-to-man approach by Atalanta it was always likely for the chances to come with intelligent movement from forward players to open space for midfield runs, and Sampdoria got their best two chances in the first half through Dennis Praet and Karol Linetty. Praet ran onto a long through ball by Sala after a simple backwards movement by Gabbiadini drew Masiello out of position and found himself in the box, but scuffed his finish. Linetty got the end of a cross from the right after a deep run.

Danger zone players: Iličić & Hateboer

Atalanta also struggled to progress the ball into opposition territory in the first half hour, both due to some poor decision making and some effective pressure triggers A pressing trigger is a specific pass or movement by the opponent that draws out a coordinated team press. used by Sampdoria to shut their passing options down when they passed the ball wide during buildup. Atalanta had 57% possession in the first half, but struggled to create much. Papu Gómez enjoyed a free role from his number ten position, was dropping deep early in the game and then tried finding space on the left side but he was not at his best day, unable to come up with his usual dribbles and smart passing.

However, Atalanta had a clear danger zone which made itself obvious within the first minute of the game. Gomez would switch play to Iličić, Hateboer overlapped When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. completely unmarked, Iličić played him in, Hateboer cut back to Iličić and the Slovenian’s strike went high and wide.

Sampdoria’s diamond formation meant there was no one to track the runs of Hateboer. This was especially a problem for Sampdoria because of how effective Atalanta uses their wing-backs, who famously often assisting one another for goals. Regular wing-backs Hateboer, Castagne and Gosens had a total of eight goals and seven assists between them before this game.

The defining tactical aspect of the game: Sampdoria had no one to track Hateboer’s runs when Iličić received the ball in the right halfspace.

This was clearly the defining tactical aspect of the game, as whenever Iličić received the ball in the right 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. and Hateboer overlapped, Atalanta looked extremely dangerous. For the first half hour Atalanta struggled to bring the ball to dangerous areas and was not able to create much. Thirty minutes in, Iličić received on the right, Hateboer overlapped completely free once again, Iličić combined with Gomez who found Hateboer, and his cross created the first half-chance of the game for Duvan Zapata who could not connect cleanly.

Two minutes later, Hateboer chose to underlap, ran onto a through-ball by Iličić and won a corner-kick. Atalanta won the corner kicks between the 30th and the 37th minutes and started to take control with this right sided threat. Five minutes before half-time, it was Mancini who burst forward from right center-back and overlapped, found Zapata with his cross who hit an open header wide.

Early second half Atalanta domination followed by a scrappy contest

Neither coach made changes for the second half. Gastón Ramírez replaced Saponara before half-time due to injury in a straight swap. Atalanta came flying off the blocks in the second half and in the 47th minute, they had their best chance of the game when Gomez set up Iličić in a fast transition but the Slovenian could not finish. One minute later, they continued their attacking frenzy, as Iličić received on the right, played overlapping Hateboer, his low cross found Gosens who hit the post. The weakness on Sampdoria’s left was so obvious yet again, and in the 50th minute, Atalanta finally made their opponents pay for it. Mancini and Hateboer were both high up on the right, Iličić cut inside this time and found Zapata with a great through ball, and he scored to give Atalanta the lead.

Sampdoria responded with making the match into a more physical battle. As a result, the game was stopped several times especially in the ten minutes after the opening goal, which largely stopped Atalanta’s fluidity.  There were multiple fouls and an injury to Sampdoria’s right back Sala who was replaced by another right back, Bereszyński. Sampdoria equalized in the 67th minute after an unnecessary penalty conceded by Gomez. Gasperini removed Gomez and introduced Mario Pašalić at the number ten position of his 3-4-1-2 shape after 73 minutes. Sampdoria’s manager probably wanted to energize his team’s pressure and have more physicality in his attack, since the game turned into more of a physical battle, and once again, Gomez was not at his best in this game and lacks the profile for such a physical scuffle anyway.

Atalanta’s winner; Giampaolo cannot say he did not see it coming, can he?

Goals often do not have a lot to do with the overall tactical story of a match. In this match, as tactics fans, we got spoiled this time. The winning goal in this match was a clear result of the spaces yielded because of both formations.

Despite all the warning signs, Giampaolo did not change his diamond formation or tweak it in any way to address the threat of an overlapping Hateboer. In the 77th minute, Iličić received in the right halfspace, played in Hateboer, who whipped a powerful cross to the far post for the left wing-back Gosens to finish. Another goal set up by both wing-backs.

Besides the tactical aspect of it, the execution was also sublime; Iličić deserves a lot of credit for consistently drawing Murru to himself with intricate dribbling and timing it right to find overlapping Hateboer, and the Dutch wing-back – who’s having a really good season – deserves credit for the quality of his deliveries.

Giampaolo had one card to play since he used two substitutions for injuries, and he introduced Gregoire Defrel, a pacey striker, for one his box-to-box midfielders Linetty. Sampdoria now looked to play in 4-2-3-1 formation without the ball with Quagliarella up front, Ramírez behind, Defrel on the left and Gabbiadini on the right. When Sampdoria had possession, they practically had all these players in the box. Gasperini responded by introducing Castagne for Iličić  and reverting to a 5-4-1 shape, and then introduced another center-back in Jose Palomino for Gosens in injury time to defend the box better.

Sampdoria tried to create chaos and came close to scoring twice, with Ekdal missing a golden headed chance in the 88th minute forcing an excellent save from Pierluigi Gollini, and then Defrel scuffing a half chance in 91st minute.

Atalanta’s right-sided focus is very clear from their halfspace passmap. 


Atalanta were the better side here, and they were helped by the match-up of the two formations favoring their strengths. They could pressure effectively thanks to the formations allowing them to press one-on-one, and had a clear pathway to goal with their wing-back runs being untracked. They eventually capitalized on the clear area of weakness for Sampdoria and found a way to win the game. Atalanta remains one of the teams to watch in Europe with their free-flowing attacking identity with some unique features to it.

Marco Giampaolo, a highly rated coach often compared to Maurizio Sarri, suffered from being a one-formation manager here, similar to his counterpart at Chelsea. Despite both managers giving their teams a clear identity and an attractive style of play, sometimes a coach should have the tactical flexibility to address some specific threats. Here it was clear from the first minute that Hateboer was going to be a problem and this issue was not addressed until Atalanta scored the winner at 77th minute in the third clear-cut chance the Dutchman created. Maybe Defrel – who is a very pacy striker effective on transitions – could have been more effective since Sampdoria often reverted to direct long balls, Atalanta played a high line and did not have a spare man. The two injuries probably denied Giampaolo to introduce him earlier, which shows that sometimes bad luck has a distinct influence in a match of football.

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