Serie A 2020/21: Fiorentina vs Sampdoria – tactical analysis
Last Friday at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence, Fiorentina played host to Sampdoria in the Serie A. Giuseppe Iachini’s men got off to a decent start this season with two impressive performances, beating Torino 1-0 in the opening game of the season and narrowly losing to last season’s runners-up Inter 4-3, in the following game.
Sampdoria on the other hand had started this Serie A season woefully. Under legendary football manager Claudio Ranieri, they failed to pick up a single point from their opening two games of the league campaign, losing to the champions of the two top-flight Italian leagues from last season, in Juventus and Benevento.
Against Benevento, despite being 2-0 up early in the game, Ranieri admitted that his side deserved to lose, and so going into this affair against an in-form La Viola, Ranieri’s men were far from the favourites. However, they managed to pull off a surprising win with a wonderful chip late on in the game from Valerio Verre.
This article will be a tactical analysis of I Blucerchiati’s win over Fiorentina. It will be an in-depth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides in their tactics, throughout the game, as well as taking a look at where each team could have improved in their set-up.
Lineups and formations:
For La Viola, Iachini named practically the same lineup as he had done in every game so far this season. The formation was exactly the same too with the use of the 3-5-2.
The only change of note was the absence of Franck Ribery. Ribery supposedly failed the fitness tests leading up to the game and so was deemed not fit to play. His replacement was the young-Serbian, Dusan Vlahovic. This was a huge miss for Fiorentina as Ribery has shown superb quality with his goal involvements and overall link-up play and has been a crucial cog in the attacking wheel since Iachini took over at the end of last year.
Club captain, German Pezzella was also still on the bench as he was not one hundred percent fit just yet, having picked up a slight injury during a pre-season game.
For Sampdoria, Ranieri made a number of changes to his starting eleven for this game from their previous outing against Benevento. Omar Colley was dropped from the side as there has been significant interest from other clubs for the centre-back, including Premier League clubs such as Liverpool and West Ham. Lorenzo Tonelli took his place next to Maya Yoshida. The rest of the backline and goalkeeper remained the same.
Morten Thorsby came back into the side to partner next to Albin Ekdal in place of Verre, with Antonio Candreva and Mikkel Damsgaard deployed on the flanks. Taking the place of Federico Bonazzoli was playmaker Gaston Ramirez who played just behind Fabio Quagliarella.
Sampdoria stifling Fiorentina’s build-up play:
Under Iachini there is a clear emphasis on playing out from the back through the central corridors from Fiorentina. Their base formation is a 3-5-2, however, on the ball, this is slightly tweaked for their offensive structure. Against Sampdoria, they had 63% of the ball and totaled 40 positional attacks throughout the game compared to only 1 counter-attack. Against teams of lesser quality, their game-plan is to maintain ball possession and play their way through the thirds with structured attacks.
The image above is how Fiorentina likes to set up when they are in the build-up phase of their attack. The three centre-backs maintain quite a narrow distance between each other whilst they are in possession. This is so that in case the opponent wins the ball and counter-attacks, they will be at a short distance to cover for one another.
The wing-backs, Federico Chiesa and Cristiano Biraghi push high and wide on the flanks during this phase of play. They rarely drop deep whilst the backline are circulating the ball and instead are instructed to push forward into more advanced areas for when the ball does progress forward.
Ahead of the three centre-backs is Sofyan Amrabat who acts as Fiorentina’s single-pivot player. He is key to Fiorentina’s build-up as he is the main link man from the backline to the advanced midfielders and forwards. His role in the build-up play is to screen the backline, looking to receive a pass and try and progress forward. Against Inter a week prior, he did this job brilliantly on his debut. However, against Sampdoria, Ranieri had a specific plan to stifle Amrabat.
Sampdoria’s base formation was a 4-4-1-1, but out of possession, it looked to be more of a 4-2-3-1. Due to La Viola’s persistence on playing their way through the thirds, Sampdoria would match them man-to-man during this phase and would deploy a man-oriented marking system. This pressing scheme can be seen in the footage below;
The centre-forward and the two wingers of Sampdoria were instructed to press Fiorentina’s centre-backs man-to-man. They would sit off their man slightly allowing the ball to be played to him, however as soon as the ball was passed, they would dart out to close them down. This was mainly because Fiorentina’s centre-backs aren’t overly comfortable in possession and can be prone to make mistakes.
They would man-mark all over the pitch, but the opposition player they marked the tightest was Amrabat. Ramirez would follow the Moroccan very closely making sure that he would be able to prevent him from receiving a pass and playing forward. For the most part, Fiorentina did not risk playing into him, and when they did, Ramirez would force him to play backwards or play laterally, at times even fouling him.
Amrabat only completed 41 passes during the game, despite Fiorentina having 63% possession. He also only managed to complete 2 progressive passes and 3 forward passes over the course of the entire match. Ranieri’s plan to stifle Fiorentina’s build-up in the central areas worked very successfully because of this high press.
Fiorentina’s constant switches of play:
One of the key components of La Viola’s style of play since Iachini took over is their frequent switches of play. Using their positional attacks, Fiorentina are able to force their opponents to shift their entire defensive block over to one side. This leaves space on the far side for a switch of the play for the ball-far wingback.
The constant switching of the points of attacks are very important to them. Firstly, it allows their wing-backs to get time and space on the ball in order to put in a decent cross to create a goalscoring opportunity. However, it also disorientates the opponent’s defensive structure as they will now have to shift their block to the opposite side so as to close down the player that the ball was switched to. Against Sampdoria, this was a focal point to their attacks because of I Blucerchiati’s low block.
This image above depicts a positional attack from Fiorentina which leads to a switch of play against Sampdoria. They overloaded the ball-side with five to six players. Usually, the five or six players are their ball-near centre-back, pivot player, ball-near wing-back, ball-near centre-forward, and ball-near advanced midfielder. If they are not able to switch the play, due to the numerical overload they will try and play through the opponent’s defensive line on the overloaded side.
As Sampdoria don’t want to make it easy for them to be able to break their defensive block on this side, they push over to the ball-side in order to try and match the numerical overload. This leaves a lot of space on the far side for Fiorentina to switch the point of attack to their ball-far wing-back.
In this game, Fiorentina had 57 attacks in total, 45 of these were from the flanks, especially the left flank.
Fiorentina created some decent chances from these switches of play, particularly from Federico Chiesa’s side. Due to Chiesa’s experience as a centre-forward, once he received the ball from the switch of play, he was given license by Iachini to drive at the Sampdoria backline and try to create a goalscoring opportunity, whereas Biraghi would stay wide and look to cross. On this right flank, they had an xG of 0.81, which can be seen from the data visual above.
They are really strong in the wide areas and even with regards to their build-up play, Fiorentina look to play centrally, before playing to the flanks once they reach the final third.
Sampdoria needed to combat these constant switches of play out of fear of being exposed by them. Ranieri knew that if the ball was switched to the opposite wing-back by Fiorentina, then their defensive block would have to shift across, disorientating it and creating gaps for La Viola to exploit.
To combat this, he ordered the ball-far wing-back to not fully commit with the defensive block and to maintain a safe distance so that if the switch occurred, they would have a man over to cover and press.
In this image, this exact tactic deployed by Ranieri can be seen. Fiorentina are about to switch the ball to Biraghi on the left as Sampdoria have shifted their defensive block to the ball-side. However, Antonio Candreva has not moved in coordination with the midfield so that he can maintain a safe distance to the ball-far wingback. Once the play is switched, he will be able to cover and prevent Biraghi from getting time and space to cross.
Sampdoria, despite pressing high whilst Fiorentina were in the build-up phase, sat very deep throughout this game in their usual low-block. As stated before, their base formation was a 4-4-1-1, but whilst in their low block, this turned into a 4-4-2.
As they lack pace in their backline, their game-plan centered around denying Fiorentina space in behind their defensive line, stopping Fiorentina from crossing, and once they regain possession they look to counter quickly.
Sampdoria had 8 counterattacks throughout the whole game, compared to Fiorentina’s 1. As they sat deep in a low block, they only had 37% possession, so when they won the ball, they had to make sure that they attacked with pace, power, and precision. To do so, they used their four main attackers, Quagliarella, Ramirez, and their two wingers.
They attacked with these four players all the time because they were Sampdoria’s best attacking outlets. They combined skill, creative flair, pace, and precision whilst attacking a disorganised Fiorentina backline and caused a lot of problems particularly with their first-half counterattacks.
The rest of the Sampdoria side were built for defensive duties, with very little attacking ability elsewhere on the pitch for I Blucerchiati except for their full-backs. They joined the attack late in case they needed extra men going forward to stretch the Fiorentina defenders, creating gaps to play through.
They not only attacked through counterattacks though. Whenever Sampdoria were in possession with Sampdoria sitting in their defensive block, they opted for long balls to the centre-forward, Quagliarella.
Quagliarella’s hold-up play is excellent and due to his lack of pace at the ripe age of 37, balls in behind would be wasted. The Sampdoria players always looked to play to his feet so that he could hold the ball up with his back turned to goal and try to bring the surrounding players into the attack. He is also prominent in the air so when he challenged for the aerial balls, Ramirez, Candreva, and Damsgaard would swarm around him looking to win the second ball.
Both of Sampdoria’s goals were from long balls despite Ranieri’s clear counterattacking game-plan.
This is the passage of play that led to Sampdoria’s first goal. Candreva played long to Quagliarella who looked to use his experience by backing into the defender in order to hold the ball up. Ramirez and Damsgaard are rushing to swarm him in order to win the second ball, however, the Fiorentina centre-back brought Quagliarella down for a penalty, one of which he converted.
The winning goal was also a long ball, but it was more straight-forward. Emil Audero kicked it long, over the Fiorentina defence and found Verre who was running through on-goal, before chipping the keeper and winning the game for Sampdoria.
This was a huge win for Sampdoria. They have not managed to win at the Stadio Artemio Franchi for well over a decade and going into this game, due to their poor start, Fiorentina were by far the favourites to take all three points. Fiorentina have impressed a lot of fans and pundits alike this season with their attractive, expansive style of football, however, Ranieri showed the rest of the league today how to play against them by nullifying their attacking strengths incredibly well.
Ranieri himself must have been feeling a lot of pressure from the media and from the Sampdoria fans and board due to their poor start to the 2020/21 Serie A campaign, so this was extremely important to keep them at bay until at least the next game. They will need to try and keep up these good performances when they play Champions League-side Lazio next week. Meanwhile, Iachini will need to pick up his side for their next game away to newly-promoted Spezia.