Torino – Sampdoria: Impressive Torino Prosper On The Flanks Against Sampdoria (2-1)

Torino impressed with a dominant high pressing style and successful attacks down the flanks. In the entire game, Sampdoria could not overcome the man-marking of the hosts. Despite a late goal by Sampdoria, the hosts were worthy of the three points with a 2-1 victory.

Tactical analysis and match report by Chris Baker

Torino have been in fine form since the turn of the year, which makes them contenders for European football next season. Walter Mazzarri made two changes to his side, as they set up in their nominal 3-5-2 shape. Nicolas Nkoulou returned, slotting in at center-back. Soualiho Meïté played as the left number eight in place of Saša Lukić while Alejandro Berenguer partnered Andrea Belotti up front.

Sampdoria were also in good form coming into this match, with wins over Sassuolo and AC Milan in their last two matches, as their hopes for European football continues. Marco Giampaolo lined his side up in a 4-4-2 diamond system, making two minor adjustments to his starting eleven, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Bartosz Bereszyński returning to the side.

Torino’s high press, Sampdoria’s buildup issues

Immediately from the first whistle, Torino’s approach out of possession became clear, as they started the game at a very high pace, using a high press as well as quick attacks to give the visitors problems early on.

Torino‘s 3-4-1-2 / 3-3-2-2 formation was very aggressive when pressing deep into Sampdoria’s half, often allowing them to engage with Sampdoria’s buildup very early on. The home side implemented this system using man-orientations all over the pitch.

Belotti and Berenguer tightly man-marked the center-backs and often matched their movements into wider areas. Behind them, Baselli and Meïté supported the strikers pressing, following the dropping movements of Sampdoria’s midfielders ensuring the away side were unable to play through their midfielders. Rincón often stayed deeper, covering the six space and marking the dropping Ramírez. The two forwards and midfielders were quite successful in this, with their positioning allowing them to sustain defensive pressure and block the passing lanes from the goalkeeper to disrupt Sampdoria’s buildup.

Both team’s positioning when Sampdoria had the ball. 

Instead of moving deeper to create a two-versus-one overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. against the strikers in wider areas, Sampdoria’s fullbacks moved up extremely early on. This created a disconnection between themselves and their buildup players. Although their position proposed a possible diagonal switch, both fullbacks were flexibly man-marked by the opposing wing-back. This specific man-marking was more flexible due to Cristian Ansaldi and Lorenzo De Silvestri’s starting position, who was stationed a bit deeper between the fullback and 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. This position allowed them to immediately press out if the fullbacks were to receive the ball to reduce their time for on the ball actions.

The temporary open diagonal passing lane to the fullbacks was a set pressing trigger A pressing trigger is a specific pass or movement by the opponent that draws out a coordinated team press. by the hosts. If this pass was attempted by the goalkeeper, the ball-receiver would be subject to aggressive pressure from behind. Torino’s ball-near central midfielder would then diagonally press out, in order to block the lane back inside to prevent the fullback combining with nearby teammates. This forced a lot of rash decision making and turnovers, as Sampdoria lacked patience in trying to get the ball forwards. Sampdoria did little to create separation in these areas, and thus were unable to create a pinch of space to receive the ball. This pressing was very effective, as Torino won possession in midfield areas quite regularly and were rarely played through.

Torino’s flanked attacks, Sampdoria’s defense

Off the ball, Sampdoria set up in their 4-4-2 diamond formation and applied little pressure on Torino’s defense. Ramírez dropped into the ten space to prevent vertical entries into Torino’s midfield. In addition, the strikers split, trying to block connections between the back three. Often, the strikers would press diagonally, keeping the passing lane to the far-side center-back blocked, trying to direct the hosts buildup into areas they had covered. However, Torino worked the ball well into the flanks and usually attacked from there.

A key principle to Torino’s attacks in the first half was their switches of play and wing combinations to get into crossing positions. They were able to reach the final third  The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. with relative ease and found space in the wide channels, due to Sampdoria’s narrow diamond. Sampdoria’s structure became heavily central, enabling unmarked runs from the wing-backs, Ansaldi in particular, who was Torino’s main source of chance creation.

As Torino looked to progress down either side, Giampaolo’s side would shift their shape across to one side of the pitch, with the ball-fair eight tucking inside. This came at the expense of uncovering the other side, which was Sampdoria’s biggest issue defensively. It allowed the hosts to break through one-versus-one or one-versus-nil before crossing the ball into the box, whilst the wing-back on the other side made late runs into the box, often unmarked, and taking advantage of Sampdoria’s central orientation.

In the entire first half, Torino were the dominant side because of their flank-oriented approach. Commonly, Ansaldi found himself in crossing positions down the left whilst Belotti, Baselli and De Silvestri loaded the box. However, it was on the right side where they managed the breakthrough. Sampdoria’s structure emptied the far-side which allowed De Silvestri to receive again unmarked, before his pinpoint cross was expertly executed by the leaping Belotti, meaning Torino took the lead in the 33rd minute. Asides from the goal, Torino hit the posts and created a few other openings from said positions. One minute into stoppage time Belotti scored his second goal of the night after a scrappy rebound, originating from another left-sided cross.

Torino take foot off the gas pedal

After another high-speed start to the second half, Torino had numerous quick-fire chances as they looked to quickly add to their 2-0 lead. After around fifteen minutes, they began to reduce their intensity in pressing and dropped into a medium block.  A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. As the half progressed, the timing of their pressing movements was visibly slower without the ball and thus allowed Sampdoria more time on the ball. By arriving later to press the ball-holder than previously, Sampdoria were able to find gaps to outplay their pressing and enter the final third a lot easier. As Sampdoria pressed a lot higher than previous, Torino were unable to have any prolonged spells of possession whilst fatigue meant they were not as quick in their pressing actions. Which makes you wonder if the approach chosen by Giampaolo was right in the first place.

The pressing was mostly done by Ramírez, Gabbiadini and Quagliarella taking every opportunity to engage Torino’s first phase players and even running through on the goalkeeper, which in turn pushed their whole defensive block much higher than previously. Thus, Sampdoria’s forwards were now in a better position to press up against Torino’s defenders while crucially covering the pass into the wing-backs. These more coordinated pressing movements allowed them to impose themselves much earlier to gain territory.

With the introduction of Grégoire Defrel in the 60th minute, the visitors started to build their attacks a lot better and proceeded to dominate the share of the ball. Quagliarella, Gabbiadini and Defrel often moved into an asymmetric front three. The two strikers would move into wider areas to occupy Torino’s wide center-backs, which opened spaces in the ten position for Defrel to operate in, as the middle center-back was not sure whether to press out or hold his position. This stretched Sampdoria into a bit more, while Torino’s compactness and pressing intensity began to decrease, spaces generated for Sampdoria to play through more regularly.

In the 83rd minute, Gabbiadini brought one back for his side with a nice finish from outside the box to lower the deficit to 2-1. From this point, Sampdoria had a number of promising attacks which proposed very clear openings against a fatigued Torino side but lacked the conviction to grab the equalizer.


Torino will take a lot of positives out of their performance against Sampdoria, not least their excellent pressing off the ball and direct wing attacks. They had a clear game plan which was executed brilliantly and the inspired Belotti ensured they took all three points. The victory itself sees Torino move level on points with Lazio, who sit in the European places as the battle for Europe continues with just eight games left.

Sampdoria, who are also fighting for Europe will feel disappointed in their performance. They ran out of ideas in trying to buildup against strict man-marking, and wasted a number of opportunities throughout the match. The only positive they can take is they created some chances, however, they also leaked chances in defense. Their next two fixtures are at home, and they must take maximum points if they are to wrestle themselves into Italy’s top six.

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Chris Baker (22) is a Business Coordinator. Interested in, and writes about, tactics. Coaches twice a week and aspires to work full time in football. Tries to follow most of the top teams across Europe, especially Arsenal and Barcelona. When he is not coaching or watching football, he is probably reading… about football. [ View all posts ]


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