How Adana Demirspor have topped the Turkish league under Vincenzo Montella – tactical analysis
Despite being one of the best-supported clubs in Turkey, life hasn’t been easy for Adana Demirspor. Over the past 25 years, they’ve had a host of managers (no less than 48, to be precise), unpaid players, nine promotion play-off losses in 14 seasons, fights between players and staff, and even an owner’s tragic suicide.
In their second successive season back in the top flight since 1995, Adana D.S. are currently joint-top with Besiktas after nine games, with former Fiorentina and Milan coach Vincenzo Montella at the helm. In this tactical analysis piece, we’ll look at Montella’s tactics, key players, and attacking statistics.
Any analysis of Montella will show he is not keen on restricting his players with fixed formations, preferring instead to experiment with his line-ups, but this season he has mostly relied on a 4-2-3-1 formation.
During both spells at Fiorentina, Montella originally used 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 before getting better success with 3-5-2, 3-4-3, and 3-5-1-1. Relying mostly on a back three, he was praised for making his teams notoriously difficult to break down and enjoyed overcoming some of Serie A‘s biggest sides, finishing fourth with Fiorentina four seasons in a row.
But Montella believes more in fluid philosophy than rigid tactics, and in an interview with La Gazzetta Dello Sport once said: “I don’t believe in formations, instead, I look at strategies and those can change. I believe in a philosophy as it is key to have one.”
Swift attacking style
Montella loves to play possession-based football with a heavy reliance on attacking midfielders who contribute both goals and assists. In his first spell at Fiorentina, midfielders David Pizarro, Juan Cuadrado, Alberto Aquilani, Adem Ljajic, and Borja Valero were key members of his squad, contributing a hefty 61 goals and assists in the 2012/13 season, and 55 the following season even without Ljajic, who had departed for Roma.
At Adana, Montella has his team stretch the pitch, both horizontally and vertically, and encourages them to move the ball quickly with a fluid one-touch passing style, which can result in swift transitions and deadly counterattacks.
Here, in their recent 3-0 away win over Antalyaspor, Montella’s side take only 13 seconds to move the ball from their left-back position to the back of the opposition’s net, with 11 touches (including the shot) between five players.
This time, in the 3-2 home win over Trabzonspor, it takes just 12 seconds for Adana to go from the edge of their own box, where keeper Ertac Ozbir rushes out to collect the ball, to regain the lead thanks to Badou Ndiaye’s neat finish over the opposition keeper. There are 10 touches between six players, including the three touches made by the goalkeeper to control the ball and lay it off to his midfield, with two players in the centre of the pitch only needing one touch to advance play.
In an even more efficient counterattack in the 3-0 home win against Sivasspor, we see Adana transition from defence in a matter of moments, as left-back Kevin Rodrigues intercepts a pass at the edge of his own box before Henry Onyekuru scores at the other end 12 seconds later.
The ball goes from the D of their box to Younes Belhanda in midfield, over to David Akintola on the left wing, before being crossed to Onyekuru at the far post, passing through four players using a total of only eight touches.
Despite previously having high-profile strikers such as Loic Remy and Mario Balotelli – the latter scoring 19 goals in the 2021/22 season and named in the league’s best eleven before his very public bust-up with Montella and subsequent move to Sion – this season, Adana are flying high without depending on a main striker.
Glancing at the goalscoring stats will tell you this alone as Moroccan midfielder Belhanda is their top scorer with 4 goals. By comparison, former Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough striker Britt Assombalonga only has 2 goals to his name, the same as defender Kevin Rodrigues and winger Henry Onyekuru.
This isn’t a new approach from Montella – during his second spell with Fiorentina, Montella used wingers Franck Ribery and Federico Chiesa as de facto strikers to great effect, the two having a more free role and moving into the striker position when necessary.
In what was dubbed a 3-5-2-0 or a 3-7-0 formation, Montella made the headlines by having his ‘forward wingers’ play wide and cut inside or drop deep to help progress attacks before moving into the space normally occupied by a number 9. This tactic rejuvenated an ageing Ribery, who was 36 at the time and deemed surplus to requirements at Bayern Munich the previous year and helped develop the then 21-year-old Chiesa into a more well-rounded attacking threat.
At Adana, Younes Belhanda is one player who has fully embraced Montella’s one-touch style perfectly. A new addition from Galatasaray, the 31-year-old displays his exemplary vision and technique by effortlessly picking out teammates or feeding the ball into space for the strikers and pacey wingers to run into.
Either dropping deep to help the midfield transition to attack or playing as a second striker behind Assombalonga, Belhanda is making the best of his free role and has been a consistent threat to the opposition. Below, we can see a collection of both short and long one-touch passes into space from both deep and advanced positions that swiftly move the ball into more attacking areas.
Despite being the club’s top scorer, Belhanda is yet to make an assist, which is a bit of an anomaly considering he’s created 21 chances for his teammates, including 5 big chances, and has an expected assist rate of 1.9 per game. This, combined with an xG of 2.8, means he is easily the biggest attacking threat in his squad and will no doubt be one of Montella’s main men this season.
Last season, Demirspor finished ninth in the league, which is certainly impressive for their first season back in the top flight, especially when they didn’t win any of their first four games. But considering they lost 5 of their last 6 games in a disappointing collapse – 3 of which were from teams that finished below them – only managing a win in their last game in a 7-0 thrashing of already relegated Goztepe, they could have finished as high as third and landed a place in the Europa League ahead of Konyaspor.
This season, Montella has them looking more threatening as a unit and has achieved consistency from the start. Winning 75% of their home games, they opened their season with a 3-2 away win at Giresunspor before taking Sivasspor apart 3-0 at home the following match. Their third game saw them almost come back from losing 3-0 away at Fenerbahce, scoring two goals in 10 minutes in the second half, before the home side put the nail in the coffin with an 83rd-minute thunderbolt from former Leeds winger Ezgjan Alioski.
A 1-0 win over Ümraniyespor in their fourth game meant that Adana had scored 9 goals in their first four games. By the seventh game of the season, they had scored 16 before their scoring streak ended with a 0-0 draw with Galatasaray.
An impressive 14 of their 17 goals from open play (82%), with only two goals from set pieces and another from the penalty spot. Only one of their 17 league goals have come from within the 6-yard box, with nearly half of them from shots outside the box, usually from a central area (63%). Adana are above the league average in points per game (2 compared to a 1.37 average) and goals scored (1.89 to a 1.32 average), and commit an impressive 17.5 shots per match.
The future looks bright for Adana D.S. with Montella at the helm, and with the tactics working wonders with the current team, it should only get better if he’s able to bring in players that fit into his vision in the coming transfer windows. The one thing he may have to crack down on is squad discipline, as Adana have already hit last year’s red card total in just nine games (three so far), but as the ‘Aeroplanino’ is known for his passion, the players may just be following his lead.
They must also improve their discipline away from home if they want to qualify for a European place, as they have only won two away games and conceded an average of 1.6 goals, 0.2 up on the league average, three of which came in the last 10 minutes of the match. Still, Montella definitely has them playing attractive football, and the confidence he has in his players in letting them play with attacking freedom is easy to see in both the results and the performances.