After an abhorrent 2019/20 season, Brescia were relegated back down to Serie B from the top-flight. The Italian minnows finished second-bottom and were 14 points from safety in the end.
Brescia went through three different managers, including Eugenio Corini twice, and ended up beginning the 2020/21 campaign with Uruguayan head coach, Diego López.
Unfortunately, despite being in Serie B, Brescia had another four managers before the season finished. While goalscoring was not an issue for Le Rondinelle, only four teams had a worse defensive record in the league.
Brescia were conceding an average of 1.3 goals per 90 which is far too high for a team that is looking to challenge for promotion. Ultimately, it was to their detriment as they were forced to spend another year brawling in the second division, finishing just outside the play-off places.
Inzaghi did a wonderful job in the south, getting Benevento promoted to Serie A in 2019/20 and the board of Brescia will be hoping that he can replicate this in the North.
Brescia are sitting in third place as of writing and are the league’s top goalscorers. However, their defensive record has somehow worsened. The Italian side is conceding 1.57 goals per 90. This is the sixth-worst record in Serie B and the worst of the top 14 teams.
Summer recruitment, formations, and comparisons
Last season, Le Rondinelle predominantly utilised a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-3-2-1 in official competitions among a plethora of other structures in their manager merry-go-round.
Upon arrival in the beautiful province of Brescia, Inzaghi switched to a 4-3-3 which drops into a 4-1-4-1 in certain defensive phases. The 4-3-3 has been used in 68% of their matches so far in the current campaign.
Inzaghi has been rather consistent with his team selections since taking over at the club despite their obvious deficiencies at the back.
Brescia spent almost £12 million in the most recent summer transfer window, recruiting 11 new players in total.
Among these new signings were some of the team’s most prominent starters including midfielders Massimo Bertagnoli, wingers Mehdi Léris and Matteo Tramoni, as well as three new centre-forwards in Stefano Moreo on loan, Riad Bajić, and the veteran striker Rodrigo Palacio, although the Argentinian tends to play out wide under Inzaghi.
Matthieu Huard was another player brought to the Stadio Mario Rigamonti, signed on a free transfer after his release from Ajaccio. However, the left-back has yet to play for the club and was the only defensive signing made over the course of the window.
While it was obvious that recruitment was necessary further up the pitch, failing to sign any defenders in the transfer market seems to be neglect in the duty of care for this team with lots of potential.
Brescia were leaking goals like a broken faucet drips water last season and yet the issue has not been rectified. In fact, it has worsened as the goals conceded per 90 statistics given earlier in the piece portrayed.
This data visualisation compares the expected goals against (xGA) with xG per Shot Against records from all twenty teams in Serie B.
What is very noticeable from the graph is just how worse off Brescia are in terms of the team’s xGA, which currently stands at 12.74. This is the highest in the division.
They also concede shots of the highest xG in the league, with 0.148 xG per shot against. This is something that needs to change quickly. Brescia want to challenge for the league title and push for promotion but concede the highest quality of chances in the division.
Breaking the high press
Under Inzaghi, Brescia do look to press high up the pitch. The team’s Passes allowed Per Defensive Action (PPDA) this season, as of writing, is 8.86 in all competitions.
This is one of the lowest PPDAs in Serie B. The lower the number, the more aggressively the team presses as they allow the opposition to make fewer passes of the ball before making an interception, tackle or defensive duel.
Brescia’s base formation is a 4-3-3 but when they press the opposition high, it looks like more of a 4-2-4 with one of the three central midfielders pushing up alongside the centre-forward to press the opposition’s backline.
Here, the centre-forward has dropped back in line with the two wingers to man-mark the opposition’s nearest midfield player to prevent the goalkeeper from playing the ball to him. The right central midfielder has pushed up too and has pressed the goalkeeper to force him to rush his pass, causing him to go long.
There is no issue with pressing in a variation of a 4-2-4 as many teams press this way. However, the players behind the front four must be ready to jump on to any players who receive the ball if it is played in behind the first line of pressure. This is where Brescia’s press breaks down.
Here, in Brescia’s lopsided 4-2-4 press, the right-winger has pushed inside behind the first line of pressure to be in a good position to jump on any of the opposition’s midfielders should the backline manage to break the first line.
This is usually the job of the central midfielders but in this instance, all three are preoccupied with pressing or marking different players.
As the right-winger has come inside, Ascoli’s left-back is free on the flank and a direct pass from the goalkeeper allows them to break through Brescia’s high press with ease.
As can be seen in the previous image, the press becomes completely disjointed and Ascoli can now attack a very vulnerable and outnumbered Brescia backline.
Another issue Brescia have in their high pressing is that their pressing angles are quite poor. A team can press as high as is geometrically possible but if the pressing angles from the defending players are not good enough then it will make ball progression simple.
In this example, the ball was played back to Como’s goalkeeper. Brescia’s left-winger stepped up to press the keeper, angling his run with the intention of blocking out one of the nearest passing options for the opponent which would force the shot-stopper long. This is called applying a cover shadow while pressing.
However, the winger did not block either of the two nearest players and so the keeper was able to play around his pressure into the right-back who could advance forward with little trouble.
If pressing is not going to be done correctly, it makes little sense to do it at all. Good pressing angles are vital to a successful and efficient high press and Inzaghi will need to coach his side quickly to avoid more defensive calamities.
Having a poor pressing structure creates problems further up the pitch as when the opponent breaks the press, the backline can often get very exposed with a number of defending players already taken out of the game.
In Brescia’s case, using a 4-2-4 in their high block, when the team in possession breaks the first line of pressure, there are four players already taken out of the game.
Playing through the lines
Another issue Brescia are having, and one which is a very worrying problem for Inzaghi, is that it is extremely easy for ball-carriers to reach teammates between the lines.
When a team is defending in a medium or low-level defensive block, their objective is always to contain the team in possession and force them to play to the wider areas of the pitch. Brescia are very poor at doing so.
When defending in these phases, Brescia sit in a 4-5-1 which can become a 4-4-2 when one central midfielder pushes alongside the centre-forward.
When defending in deeper areas, it is important that your midfield line, in particular, is not stagnant in a straight line.
Typically, when a team is defending in a 4-4-2, one of the double-pivot will be positioned deeper than his partner to be able to pick up any players between the lines that may be looking to receive the ball.
Here is an example of Atletico Madrid utilising this very well against FC Barcelona back in 2015. Having one of the pivot players dropping deeper than the rest of the midfielders allows that player to cut off and mark certain passing lanes between the lines. This makes ball progression more difficult for the opponent.
Now, let’s take a look at how Brescia’s mid-block appeared in a recent game against Frosinone in Serie B.
The midfield line is flat. No passing lanes are being cut out from in between the lines and the body shape of the first line of pressure is inviting the Frosinone defender to drive inside or else play a line-breaking ball that would split both the forward and midfield line of Brescia.
This is very poor from a team aspiring to be in Serie A next season. Brescia need better defensive structure fast.
Often what ends up occurring is that when the ball reaches the player between the lines, he is able to receive unmarked on the double-pivot’s blindside and one of the Brescia centre-backs are forced to come off their line to put pressure on them, but this leaves space for the opposition to exploit.
Here, Frosinone have managed to play a pass through the first two lines into a player in front of the backline. As there is no pivot player deep to put pressure on the ball-receiver, the ball-near centre-back from Brescia is forced to close him down.
The player in possession sees him coming and slides the ball past him into a runner who is darting into the space left by the defender. The chance was ultimately missed but is an example of how easy Brescia’s defensive structure can be taken advantage of due to their lack of a staggered midfield, lack of compactness, and miscommunication all around.
Here is another example of Frosinone taking advantage of Brescia’s poor defensive structure in this manner which eventually resulted in a goal for the home side in what turned out to be a 2-2 draw.
Organised defensive structure is so vital in the modern game; Brescia lack this. While Inzaghi may feel that the Italian side need reinforcements at the back, the lack of cohesion in the defensive phases is on him and him only.
Nowadays, it is very important for teams that use a positional play type of system to have a good rest defence. Rest defence essentially means that the players position themselves well on the pitch to ensure they can counterpress when possession is lost.
Teams such as Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool made this term more mainstream, and its efficiency is obvious for everyone to see when executed well.
Players must ensure that they take up good positions on the pitch and maintain close connections with teammates so that they can hunt the ball down in numbers when they lose it. Brescia do not do this so well.
While their structure is very efficient in possession, it can often leave them susceptible to quick breaks. Inzaghi likes to have quite a lot of players up and around the box, including his midfielders.
In this image, Brescia have pushed seven outfield players into the final third in an attack down the right flank. Their three midfield players have also pushed up just outside the edge of the box.
In theory, this could be a very efficient way of counterpressing as they could win the ball back in a really dangerous position if successful. However, on the flip side, if the opposition manages to break through the counterpress, there are just three players under the ball that are the last line of defence before the goalkeeper.
Situations like this can arise and put Brescia at a serious danger of conceding:
Being expansive and attack-minded in possession is fine but it must correlate with ensuring that they are not easily exploited at the back. Inzaghi needs to find a way to balance his players’ positioning in a structured attack to give them the best possible chance of retaining the ball from counterpressing when it is lost.
Brescia are one of the most entertaining sides in Italian football at the moment for a plethora of reasons. Le Rondinelle have scored 19 goals in merely 7 matches in Serie B but have conceded 12.
Scoring goals aplenty is really impressive and a testament to the manager’s work on the training ground but as the ancient footballing proverb goes: ‘attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.’ If Brescia want to remain up and around the top spots, Inzaghi needs to sort out their play in the defensive phases.