Atalanta’s been a true revelation to the football world in the past few years. The club from Bergamo broke new heights this season, getting another, more confident finish in the top four in Serie A, and reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League, where they will compete against PSG. The recent rise of Atalanta can be attributed both to the brilliant coach Gian Piero Gasperini and their great academy, which allowed to reinforce the squad season after season. Gasperini’s methods of work and his entire football philosophy got into the minds of many players and people who worked with him over the years, and one of them is the present coach of Hellas Verona – Ivan Jurić. He worked with this mentor at Inter and Palermo, starting his own managerial career shortly after. Jurić promoted Crotone to Serie A for the first time in their history and then had three coaching spells with Genoa.
The coach’s first success on a big stage happened this season, as a manager of Hellas Verona. At the end of the campaign, the newly-promoted side finished ninth in the table. Ivan Jurić got the opportunity to instil his style of play for Hellas Verona, which is largely influenced by Gian Piero Gasperini. However, there are tactical tweaks that the coach made due to the position of his club and existing roster. In this tactical analysis, we will delve into the tactics and philosophy of Ivan Jurić and will try to see how different is this team’s playing style from the current Atalanta side, and what the future holds for the Gialloblu.
Hellas Verona is third in the league in terms of PPDA, with 9,28 passes, only behind Bologna and Atalanta. Just like Gasperini, Jurić opts for a man-marking approach in the defensive phase. However, his side is pressing not as aggressively in the attacking third, preferring compactness between the lines to the aggressive pressing.
High pressing happens only after certain triggers, backward passes, and the cases of a more static build-up. On other occasions, Hellas Verona fall back into a mid-block and put pressure in the middle third. There are several pressing patterns against different formations for Hellas Verona within their man-oriented approach, and they heavily depend on the tactics of both teams and game state. In the next few paragraphs, I will outline the main pressing principles of this team.
Throughout the season, Jurić used 3-4-3 formation, with Günter, Kumbulla, and Rrahmani at the heart of the defence, Lazović and Faraoni as left and right wing-backs, and Veloso with Amrabat in a double pivot. The attacking group of two inside forwards and a striker wasn’t as consistent and undergone a lot of changes, but Eysseric, Borini and Di Carmine can be named as one of the main options. Ivan Jurić rotated the team quite a lot from match to match throughout the season, but the basic set up remained the same.
When playing against the same formation, which happened quite a lot during the season, Hellas Verona approach pressing in the most simple way – man-marking by positions. You can see this in the image below, with everyone marking their respective players by positions.
Below is an in-game example, with the front-three occupying three centre-backs, and two central midfielders marking their respective players. The centre-back has to receive with his back to opposite goal, so it’s one of the main pressing triggers for players.
If the opposing team plays in a 3-1-4-2 attacking formation with one midfielder in a holding role, there are several variations of how Hellas Verona can deal with it.
Here one of the inside forwards marks the deepest-lying midfielder, with one of the central midfielders, Amrabat or Veloso, switching on unmarked centre-back. Hellas Verona’s centre-back then switches on too and marks one of the opposing 8s.
The next variation is one of the central midfielders marking the defensive midfielder instead, with the front three marking all the centre-backs. Like in the previous pattern, one of the centre-backs switches to the unmarked opposing midfielder.
In the game against Lazio, this structure was applied, with the central midfielder Pessina marking defensive midfielder. Lazović pushes up to his marker who is likely to receive the pass, while another wing-back sits deeper into the backline, and that’s something we will discuss in more detail. The trigger for high press here was a back pass, with a player on the ball turning his back to opposition goal and thus being more vulnerable to pressing.
In other instances, the numerical superiority of the opponent(3v2) in the initial build-up is allowed in order to get more compact in midfield, and having this structure still can force the opposition to go wide. Here, in the game against Atalanta, right inside forward and striker are marking two CBs, while Veloso follows his respective marker until the last line of defence. The third centre-back. Djimsiti(blue circle) is left unmarked and forwards would switch on him when he receives the ball.
The same structure as above can be applied to opponents playing with four players at the back. Then, one of the full-backs is left unmarked while another full-back is marked by a wing-back. When unmarked full-back receives, wing-back pushes up to mark him, sometimes with centre-back switching on his previous marker(winger).
These pressing structures are flexible and slightly change from game to game, but the main goal is to force the opponent either to play long or to forwards, where CBs would step in, or force them wide where the flank trap is created. Hellas Verona actively use overloads on the flanks as their primary tool in both attack and defence, and in case of the latter, high mobility and aggressiveness allow to win the ball back, creating 1v1 situations wide. Wide centre-back, wing-back, central midfielder(s) and inside forward all move to one flank to limit passing options and either get the ball or force a back pass.
In regards to this strict man-marking system and desire to force opposing team wide, the wing-back partnership of Lazović and Faraoni becomes important, and that’s what we’ll touch upon in the next section of this analysis.
When another team is in possession, Lazović and Faraoni have to be aware of where the ball is played and react accordingly. When the ball is played to one of the flanks, one of the wing-backs pushes up and marks his player, while the other wing-back drops back and joins the backline. With CBs being aggressive without the ball and constantly leaving the backline, the additional cover provided by one of the wing-backs helps to sustain defensive balance. The coordination between the full-backs becomes more important when the ball is played to the centre, then they both push up to get closer to their markers and then one of them drops deep if the ball is played to an opposite flank.
The focus on pressing and defending more actively in the middle third makes an impact on how these two players defend against their markers. If the ball is played to the full-back in their defensive third, Faraoni or Lazović jump at their markers and try to force a back pass. In the middle third, the aforementioned pattern kicks in, where they try to put pressure on players when they receive and coordinate their actions depending on what flank the ball is played.
The distinction between the two becomes more apparent when we talk about their attacking contributions. Generally speaking, Lazović is more involved in attacking play of the team then Faraoni is. There is a visible incline towards the left flank in attacks, and it suits both wing-backs well. Lazović recorded three goals and seven assists in Serie A this season, while Faraoni provided five goals and one assist.
Lazović has a great dynamic with a left inside forward, and can create good spots for himself for shots, deliveries or further passes. Faraoni, on the other hand, is not as great of a playmaker, but he is exceptional at making runs into the box and arriving at the far post.
Despite the imbalance of attacking distribution, the system suits both these players’ best qualities and it shows how the coach adapts his philosophy to his set of players.
Build-up and attacking principles
Just like Atalanta, Hellas Verona primarily use wide areas to progress the ball, mostly ignoring the centre. In the build-up, the centre-backs position wide to switch flanks faster and make life harder for the first line of pressing. The roles of wide centre-backs include the first pass, being a part of an attacking structure on the flank, and being responsible for switching the play to the other flank. Here, centre-backs are wide and Hellas Verona look to create 5v3 situation on the left flank. The concept of overload and isolate is perfectly suitable here, as Hellas Verona try to overload one side of the pitch here, isolating Faraoni on the other.
The emphasis of attacking through wide areas and the established passing connections between players make this concept work regardless of the opposing team. In these overloads, all general rules for ball progression apply – runs in behind, one-two combinations, third-man runs, sometimes positional rotations, even though it is not used to the same extent as it’s done in Atalanta.
Here, wide centre-back, central midfielder, wing-back and inside forward create an overload on one side with four players, which can be referred to as rondo. When creating numerical superiority wide, it’s hard for defenders to maintain good positioning and awareness of all the movements. Thus, players tend to face a dilemma of whether jump at players and leave the space behind open or not. Both these decisions can be exploited to the attacking team’s advantage, and Hellas Verona do it well.
Here, in this example, the inside forward who is the closest player to the opposition goal, moves away his marker from desired route for progression with his movement. Central midfielder, who is about to receive from the wing-back, attracts pressure too, leaving the centre-back(#23) open to run into the half-space. Each action(pass or movement) moves the defence in a certain way, and so Hellas Verona can play around the defence to access deeper areas.
This was an example involving four players, where there are plenty of ways to move the defence around. In other situations, involving two or three players, combinations become more direct with runs in behind from an inside forward or wing-back after one-twos or third-man runs involving a central midfielder.
Hellas Verona don’t have a player who can play between the lines on a constant basis, so accessing the penalty area with deliveries from the flanks is the main way for this team to create chances. Thus, two wing-backs, Lazović and Faraoni, are essential for the team in the attacking department.
Double pivot of Sofyan Amrabat and Miguel Veloso plays a big part in team’s attacking structure. Their main role is getting the ball to the flanks by either doing it themselves or through a wide centre-back and then helping to create wide overloads. Both players are also responsible for redistributing the ball to opposite flanks. They are solid under pressure when receiving with their back turned to the opposition goal, and hence their qualities under pressure are invaluable in the build-up.
When Hellas Verona are under a lot of pressure, one of them would drop to the CBs to escape pressure, like Amrabat does in the image below.
The tactics will evolve in the upcoming seasons, and balancing out the distribution of attacks as well as getting a playmaker is, in my opinion, the most essential things for this team to continue their cycle.
Ivan Jurić has done an exceptional job this season, not only keeping Hellas Verona afloat but making them battle for European places for the majority of the campaign. However, in order to maintain this level of performances and go beyond that, as Atalanta did, they need to strengthen the squad in this transfer window. Unfortunately, many of core players that had a big impact on the team this season are leaving – Amrabat and Rrahmani joined Fiorentina and Napoli respectively, and there are several more players that await their transfers. It’s going to be a decisive transfer window for the development of the club, and the right signings will be key for repeating the success of this season. The system is in place and will continue to evolve, and given what the coach has achieved with this roaster, there is a good chance we are going to see Hellas Verona competing for the same places in the upcoming season.