Francesco Farioli: Why the 33-year-old is one of the most exciting managers in the world – tactical analysis
It seems like everything about Francesco Farioli revolves around breaking the norm. The 33-year-old manager has quickly attracted the world’s interest through his fascinating and daring tactics in Turkey, but to understand Farioli a bit better, it is best to start before that. His career trajectory is as fascinating as any.
While coaching in Qatar in early 2017, Farioli wrote an article about Roberto De Zerbi’s Foggia, who comfortably won the Serie C that season. De Zerbi, who is now in the Premier League with Brighton, loved the article and offered the 28-year-old a position in his backroom staff as he joined Serie A side Benevento. Farioli then followed De Zerbi to Sassuolo before parting ways and heading off to Turkey in 2020.
He began the 2020/21 season as an assistant manager at Alanyaspor, and in March 2021, he became the manager of Fatih Karagümrük, where Juventus and Milan legend Andrea Pirlo is currently managing. At 31 years old, he was the youngest professional manager in Europe at the time of signing the contract. On the last day of 2021, Farioli joined his former club Alanyaspor, this time as the manager.
With over a year at the Turkish club now, the Italian’s football ideas are well imprinted in his team. However, to think of his tactics as a defined concept is inapt. With a similar style to his former partner De Zerbi, Farioli’s tactics push the boundaries and challenge the norm. They are proof that in football, there is no tactical end product, no end goal. The world of tactics is in constant change, and Farioli is one of the newest characters leading it.
This tactical analysis aims to provide a complete and in-depth breakdown of Francesco Farioli’s tactics at Alanyaspor. The analysis will specifically focus on his team’s behaviour in and out of possession, identifying and outlining the key principles and ideas that guide his tactics.
At Alanyaspor, the Italian manager has varied between a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-2-1, with the latter being the most used recently. However, formations are hardly relevant with Farioli. According to Wyscout, Alanyaspor have used a total of seven formations this season. At any rate, the last five are simply variations of the two, representing one of the overarching characteristics of Farioli’s side: fluidity.
Fluidity is hardly news in 2023, but the extent to which it influences Alanyaspor’s structure is fascinating. As it seems, the two shapes are highly considerate of the characteristics of the players. Although there are principles in each stage of possession that guide the collective’s behaviour, there is a lot of room for positional freedom and little for rigid structures. In fact, it is these principles that allow for such individual liberty to roam in and out of spaces. In later sections, using one phase of possession at a time, we will explore these principles, their consequences, and why they prove so effective.
As far as line-ups are concerned, Farioli is constantly rotating his starting eleven. From the outside, it is hard to be sure, but it seems his team selection is highly influenced by the environment surrounding the game at hand, whether that is opposition, form, player characteristics, and more. Although there are a few cornerstones in his eleven, it is in constant rotation.
Additionally, some players tend to rotate within the shape itself. Take 33-year-old Leroy Fer, for instance. Fer has featured as a right wing-back, in the midfield, and even as a centre-back in some instances. Farioli is highly aware of his players’ characteristics, constantly looking to challenge them and maximise their contribution to the collective.
Constructing through superiority
Alanyaspor’s metrics in 2022/23 quickly indicate an attacking and possession-based approach. Despite not having the investment and subsequent talent of some of the Istanbul clubs, the Alanya-based side has averaged 57.48% possession this season, with around 540.65 passes per 90. Similarly, they average 32.57 positional attacks per 90, compared to just 23.17 from their opponents. This highlights a certain level of control they are able to have over the opposition, and this begins from the build-up.
In this construction phase, Alanyaspor begin with a rather unusual setup. Whether in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-2-1, the centre-backs remain rather narrow with the keeper also getting involved. Additionally, the double pivot remains extremely close. Altogether, this results in an initial five or six players in or around their own box.
Beyond this first 4-2 structure, the fullbacks and advanced players will roam the spaces further up the pitch providing support and acting as outlets. Of course, positional roles may depend on the overall formation, but the general idea is consistent. In the 3-4-2-1, the two advanced midfielders (or inside forwards) have an extremely important role of dropping into spaces, receiving and accelerating possession.
Earlier in the year, using a 4-3-3, a variation of the example above can be seen. This time a 3-2 shape is formed instead, and the fullback drops slightly deeper to provide support and help build through the wide areas.
This aim for numerical superiority in the first phase of possession naturally attracts a high number of opposition players, creating key spaces further up the pitch. This offers two roads. The first is a less vertical one, where they use their numerical superiority and transform the build-up into a simple 5v4 possession drill.
The more vertical option can be seen below. In this example, one of the midfielders makes a false run into their own box to drag the defender and create a progressive passing lane for the goalkeeper.
Another key principle in these phases is constant movement and approximation. Through structural fluidity, the players are in constant search for space and passing lanes, especially behind defensive lines. In this first instance, as the midfielder carries the ball, his teammates create four passing options.
After playing it wide, the players move again. This time, three players support the wide channel and instantly create numerical superiority in that area. While numerical superiority through approximation is obviously key, Farioli’s men also tend to create tactical superiority through intelligent angles and positioning.
This system is a handful for opponents to defend against, and often when trying to contain this approach, they will commit a high number of defenders to a specific area. However, this creates the opportunity for a quick switch and subsequent transitional scenario, where Farioli’s men attack an unorganised side of the defence. These constant changes of speed in possession, whether vertically or laterally, makes them incredibly dynamic.
Progressing and final third
As Alanyaspor progress into more advanced phases of possession, they maintain a similar approach, albeit with a few additions. Despite being a possession-heavy side, Farioli’s side has a dangerous verticality to them. They average a high 78.7 progressive passes per 90, and as they progress into the opposition half, they are constantly looking to attack the depth.
Nevertheless, their work in the middle third tends to begin in a familiar fashion. Around the ball carrier, there are numerous passing lanes, which are constantly disappearing and reappearing as a result of fluid and constant movement. Again, these are done at intelligent angles, often behind or in between defensive lines.
Positional rotations are a key resource in manipulating the opponent’s defensive structure and creating space to burst forward. In the instance below, for example, the left defensive midfielder moves forward, away from the ball, and drags the defender with him. Immediately after, the left-back and left inside-forward both burst into the space left by him. These drastic movements and positional exchanges result in a confused defence and holes being opened up.
Another trend seen in Farioli’s possession is the quick one-touch combinations. Below, through a rapid three-pass sequence, they are able to overcome the opponent’s attempt to overload the midfield and play away from pressure and into the final third. After finding the “third man” behind the opposition, he is able to turn and drive towards the left wing, where they have a 3v2 superiority.
Alanyaspor’s possession is a consequence of all these principles and ideas working simultaneously. It is fascinating to watch these concepts flow together into one possession sequence, and it is incredibly hard to stop it. To capitalise on this approach, Alanyaspor’s players are also constantly attacking the space behind the backline.
In numerous instances, they are successful in bypassing the entire defensive structure and directly reaching the final third. Additionally, the simple execution of these runs tends to lower the backline and create more space to work with.
Alanyaspor are often able to reach the final third through transitional scenarios, where the build-up or progression turns into a direct counterattack scenario. In addition to these vertical instances, they are also able to reach the final third through more controlled progression. Obviously, in such moments, the defence is far more organised and difficult to break down.
As a result, they tend to attack the wide channels in an effort to enter the assist zone, highlighted below. The example below is especially interesting because, although they are in a 3v4 situation, they are able to create tactical superiority.
The defensive midfielder makes a forward run in behind, where he receives it and drags two defenders. Meanwhile, the inside forward plays dead before appearing to receive it from the defensive midfielder inside the assist zone.
In the Süper Lig, Farioli’s men have conceded 31 goals from just 26.29 xGA, indicating a gap between the performance and result. Nonetheless, the defensive phase still requires some roughening up. This season, they have conceded 1.37 xGA per 90 from 10.26 shots per 90. Considering they have the fifth-lowest PPDA in the league, conceding such a high number of opportunities is certainly not a part of their strategy.
At any rate, Alanyaspor’s defensive ideas are clear. Their defensive block tends to begin rather high, looking to win the ball back as early as possible. This high press can be rather aggressive, and it is actually conducted in a mix of zonal and man marking. In either their 3-4-2-1 or 4-3-3, they will remain narrow as they restrict the opponent to one side and eliminate their passing options.
Despite looking to press high at times, they are also comfortable sitting in a mid-to-high block. This organisation is still quite aggressive, but it offers a little more security and compactness, especially in pure mid-blocks.
In the instance below, they defend in a 4-3-3. Again, there is a balance between zonal and man marking. The centre-forward switches between the centre-back and defensive midfielder while the two advanced midfielders pick up the opposition’s midfielders. The wingers press the wide centre-backs. At the end of the day, the specific positional duties will depend on the opponent’s structure. However, the zonal and man-marking balance is always there.
In more of a traditional mid-block below, we can see how their 3-4-2-1 functions. The inside-forwards lead the press in their respective wide areas, while the opposite drifts inside. The double pivot is significant in shifting from side to side and keeping the opposition from coming inside. The centre-forward provides support while the nearest wing-back pushes up.
Balanced low block – the recent 3-4-2-1
Defending deep, their 3-4-2-1 structure offers great balance – perhaps this is why Farioli has resorted to it so much lately. The structure allows for them to initially pack the central areas, as seen below. Additionally, with the two inside forwards, they are able to quickly jump to the wide areas if needed. It allows the midfield line to successfully defend the central areas as well as the wide areas, all the while still having a backline of five behind them.
When the ball is played wide, as seen below, the 3-4-2-1 offers great protection to the central areas. With the nearest inside forward, defensive midfielder, and wing-back, they have three layers of immediate pressure out wide. In all of these lines, there are further players inside to provide cover.
In this final instance, we can see a more dynamic instance of this, where the opposition tries to quickly access the wide channels. Nonetheless, their block is still able to shift across with the multiple layers of protection and cover. The metrics indicate Farioli still has some work to do in the defensive phases, but the 3-4-2-1 is showing promising signs of security.
At just 33 years old, Francesco Farioli is easily one of the most promising managers in the world. In almost two years of management, the Italian has already been able to push the tactical boundaries and provide revolutionary alternatives to possession.
Of course, nothing in football is entirely new. However, through the constant recycling and rethinking of principles and ideas, the norm and meta are in constant change. Francesco Farioli is one of the newest leaders of this evolution.