SS Lazio – Atalanta Bergamo: Atalanta and Lazio exploit each others weaknesses in another rollercoaster ride (3-3)
Staying in line with their recent encounters, Lazio and Atalanta did not disappoint in yet another rollercoaster ride that neutral spectators will have certainly enjoyed. In a game of two halves, Atalanta dominated the first half with an effective pressing and buildup play, while Lazio made great use of Atalanta’s fading intensity to come out on top after the break.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
Over the years, Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio and Giampiero Gasperini’s Atalanta have blessed us with some of the most intriguing and unpredictable matches from a tactical and emotional perspective, keeping each and every fan on their toes until the final whistle dissolved in the stadium. Even then, one could not be sure that the rollercoaster truly ended, because any moment could be right to catch the opponents off guard.
At the time of the encounter, Atalanta sat in third place three points above their closest competitor Napoli. Five points separated them from Lazio, whose start to the season has been somewhat of a rollercoaster as well.
Although the loss to Inter could have been estimated in Lazio’s account, their performance begged to differ, as the visitors on the night only surrendered to Samir Handanovič’s heroics. Likewise, only the woodwork interfered with a potential Lazio victory in a dominant Derby display.
Simone Inzaghi’s men have often been labeled unable to cope with the “big dogs”, but this year the constant seems to have flipped its elements, with performances appearing directly proportional to the strength of the opposition. The stronger the opposition, the stronger the performance, while the hiccups along the way have, so far, mainly come against weaker teams.
Atalanta, on the other hand, have enjoyed a comfortable opening run to their domestic season, collecting five wins, one draw and one loss in seven matches. A testament to the maturity Gasperini’s men have attained, in the face of their underwhelming Champions League debut.
With Duván Zapata unavailable and Josip Iličić on the bench, Gasperini started Mario Pašalić and Ruslan Malinovskyj in support of Luis Muriel. Simone Inzaghi, on the other hand, had to cope with Manuel Lazzari’s injury, starting Adam Marušić.
Similar yet opposite
Straight from the start, Lazio tried to control Atalanta’s intensity by playing direct on the ball and pressing when out of possession. Against Atalanta’s 3-4-1-2 shape, Lazio’s two strikers defended the midfielders with their cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. and pressed the closest center-backs while the central midfielders stepped onto the half-backs to inhibit the visitors’ freedom when building up. Consequently, the possession would be forced to wide areas, where – according to Inzaghi’s plans – the wing-backs’ isolation should have succumbed to Lazio’s aggressive defense in a 3-5-2 system. Instead, through Pašalić’s support, Gosens was able to combine and dribble inside the field to assist Muriel’s opener.
Unlike their opponents, Atalanta were effective at covering central areas by pressing the ball-carriers into the flanks. Lazio orchestrated a similar strategy, but, while Lazio’s possessions mostly finished at the helpless Senad Lulić and Marušić, Atalanta possessed an escape rope in Alejandro Gómez.
Papu Gómez the regista.
The Argentine roamed behind the two Lazio strikers to dictate the play and link the various parts of Gasperini’s machine. Atalanta’s captain played aside Remo Freuler in possession, occasionally dropping between the center-backs, too. Meanwhile, Malinovskyj and Luis Muriel would move between the lines, where they operated to assist their team’s central progression. Thus, if unable to access their regista, Atalanta could directly pass the ball to the attacking midfielder behind Lazio’s midfield.
Lazio was helpless, as the 3-0 deficit after thirty-eight minutes screamed. Thirty-eight minutes during which the home side only made one shot to Pierluigi Gollini’s goal. In the entire first half, Lazio made no shots on target. All because of Atalanta’s pressing system.
Initially, Gómez stayed behind the two attackers Muriel and Pašalić to mark Marco Parolo, and the third goal was a good example of Lazio’s difficulties when confronted with Atalanta’s man-marking. Without any solutions for the ball-carrier, the hosts were forced into playing risky or ineffective direct passes to the strikers, which Tolói fiercely intercepted into Gómez’s path.
Atalanta’s man-marking against Lazio’s 3-5-2 shape.
However, if the press was bypassed, Papu Gómez and Pašalić would retreat into the midfield line to support Freuler.
Simone Inzaghi reacted to the triple deficit by substituting the prime victim of Atalanta’s first half in Marco Parolo, for Danilo Cataldi. Marušić also came off for Patric.
A large part of the developments in the second half came as a consequence of Atalanta’s drop in intensity both on and off the ball. The game opened up, with more spaces being found on the counter for both sides, so Lazio could finally play in their preferred environment. What resulted from this scenario was a close-range chance from Correa around the fiftieth minute, after Inzaghi’s men quickly countered an Atalanta attack.
Just as Lazio were starting to grow into the game, and after a spell that saw them control more of the ball in quick dynamic moves, Gasperini noticed Atalanta’s defensive struggles and replaced Pašalić with Marten de Roon. The Dutch midfielder took Gómez’s place in midfield, with the Argentine moving to attack. However, Lazio’s momentum did not stop.
Shortly after the substitution, Immobile squandered a chance on goal. In the space of two minutes, Lazio scored two goals. One from an Immobile penalty, and the second, one minute after the first, after a successful pressing sequence freed Correa behind Atalanta’s defense. Gasperini’s intentions when subbing de Roon in did not pay off, since Gómez’s position higher up the field deprived his side of a link to the attackers and exposed the defenders to Lazio’s pressing.
Furthermore, without pressing intensity, Lazio pushed Atalanta back with ease, creating many shooting opportunities. Lazio’s second half very much looked like a repeat of Atalanta’s dominance during the first. Eventually, Lazio were allowed entries into dangerous areas, to which the visitors responded frantically, as the two penalties conceded indicate.
Like one could have anticipated, Lazio versus Atalanta did not lack drama, excitement, and goals. In a repeat of the 2017/18 draw between the two sides in Bergamo, Immobile’s 92nd minute penalty restored order to a game of halves.
Perhaps Atalanta deserved a win given the dominance during the first half, but the way Lazio used Atalanta’s fading intensity to their favor also deserves credit and probably makes the draw a fair result to both sides.
Gasperini’s men remain four points ahead of Napoli, which means that their third spot is retained ahead of what will probably be the match that decides Atalanta’s fate in the Champions League. Having lost against Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk, winning against Manchester City probably remains Atalanta’s only hope to keep competing in the most prestigious competition in Europe. At the same time, it is telling about the status that Atalanta have reached in Italy when an eleven missing Zapata and Iličić was able to dominate one of Italy’s top teams – albeit being a top team still in search for its definite level.
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