Fiorentina picked apart as they fail to go toe-to-toe with Atalanta’s creative attack
Just a few days after producing a breathtaking 3-3 draw in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final, Atalanta and Fiorentina met again. This time they met in Serie A with important points up for grabs in the chase for European football. The hosts would prove victorious in another entertaining game between the two sides. This tactical analysis profiles how Atalanta managed to turn the game around after Fiorentina’s bright start.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta lined up in their usual 3-4-2-1 but what was interesting was Stefano Pioli’s selection. He chose to mirror Atalanta’s shape and we’ll shortly see why. The exciting front three of Federico Chiesa, Luis Muriel, and Giovanni Simeone finally started together.
Fiorentina’s approach and bright start
Fiorentina started the game brightly and took the lead in the third minute when Muriel intercepted a pass and scored swiftly. The keys to the bright start were Fiorentina’s surprising pressing scheme and Atalanta’s early struggles to cope with this.
The image below highlights how Fiorentina approached the game from a defensive point of view. They looked to press Atalanta man-to-man, which must have been the main reason behind their decision to use a 3-4-3-formation. In the image, we see the front three ready to press the Atalanta defenders. The two central midfielders are also ready to press their direct opponents.
Also note the way the central centre-back, Pezzella, steps out to mark Gomez in midfield as further emphasis on how man-orientated Fiorentina were. This situation led to Muriel intercepting De Roon’s pass and going on to score.
Here’s another example of the man-orientated nature of Fiorentina’s pressing. Right wing-back Laurini (white) is pressing Atalanta’s left wing-back Gosens. Both central midfielders Fernandes and Veretout are marking Atalanta’s central midfielders. Chiesa is following the run of left-sided centre-back Masiello. Fiorentina’s right-sided centre-back Nikola Milenkovic steps out to mark Gomez deep into Atalanta’s half.
The image below is an example of what it would look like in the opposite half. The man-orientations are crystal clear. The issue for Fiorentina was that, as the game went on, Atalanta started to bypass their press. In the image below Castagne plays it first time up the wing to Ilicic who holds off Ceccherini before playing Castagne in behind.
There were signs that Fiorentina weren’t used to pressing in this way. The below image highlights this. I’ve highlighted the front three of Fiorentina. Nobody is on the right putting pressure on Freuler. This forces Edimilson to move out towards the ball. Gomez has cleverly dropped into the space behind Fiorentina’s midfielder and Milenkovic has followed him.
This creates gaps behind the Serbian. With no pressure on the ball and no cover behind the players on the right, Fiorentina have left themselves exposed to a ball in behind. This situation has come about only because of the poor defending of the front three.
There were no surprises with regards of Atalanta’s approach. They pressed aggressively with obvious man-orientations as always. Their man-marking approach is really tough to face, and this allowed them to always be in control of the game since they usually won the ball back quickly.
The image below highlights their usual pressing scheme when Fiorentina had the ball centrally. Each player is assigned a direct opponent and they mark this player unless he changes position with someone else.
The image below is another example with the ball now on Fiorentina’s left. Atalanta’s front three press their direct opponents while the midfielders mark theirs.
Due to Atalanta’s man-marking, Fiorentina rarely managed to control possession in midfield. They then resorted to a tactic that should have been more successful in theory. We have an image below where each Fiorentina player is marked or about to be pressed.
The ball is with right wing-back Laurini. Instead of risking a pass into the centre, he plays it down the side for Chiesa to run onto. These kinds of balls left Fiorentina 3v3 from the half-way line, but they rarely threatened from it and Atalanta remained in control.
Papu Gomez finds space to run the game
Fiorentina’s plan was to mirror Atalanta’s shape and therefore have easy access to man-orientated pressing. In theory, this was a good idea. In practise, however, Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic created havoc with clever movement and their quality. Gomez, in particular, proved difficult to handle. He would drop off the front, as seen below, to receive in the space outside Fiorentina’s two central midfielders.
This was too far for Milenkovic (black) to follow without destabilising the defence, and the presence of a wing-back made it impossible for Laurini to step out to him. From this position Gomez could then dictate Atalanta’s attacking play.
The image below highlights another situation when Gomez drops into the empty space outside Fiorentina’s midfield duo and receives the ball. The onrushing wing-back Gosens was key since this allowed Gomez extra time and space due to Laurini’s inability to push up to the Argentinian.
Ilicic likewise found similar spaces on the right. Ilicic is a master of finding space in the right-sided half-space, and his individual ability is sky high when he’s at his best. He proved this by scoring a brilliant individual goal to equalise.
Here, the problem for Fiorentina was Ceccherini (white) being unable to step out since Pezzella was too far away marking Zapata. Marking Ilicic would have left no defender to cover the space in front of the goalkeeper. Fortunately for La Viola, De Roon played the ball backwards on this occasion.
Apart from both scoring, Gomez and Ilicic were the brains behind almost everything Atalanta created. They often linked up too, as seen below when Gomez floats a pass in behind that Ilicic volleyed but Lafont saved.
Gomez’s goal to make it 2-1 turned out to be the winner and highlighted his brilliance, but also how Atalanta overcame Fiorentina’s defensive approach. We see this in the image below.
Freuler is on the ball on the left and his movement to the wing has dragged Veretout (black) with him. Laurini (white) is occupied with Gosens. Fernandes’ job in this situation is to mark De Roon, which creates a huge gap in midfield that was vacated by Veretout. Gomez drops into this space and Milenkovic follows him.
Gomez then brilliantly turns Milenkovic and sets off into the huge space behind the Serbian. The rest of the Fiorentina players are pushed deep by the runs from Gosens and Zapata. Laurini (yellow) is therefore unable to challenge Gomez. Gomez keeps running before finishing superbly to give Atalanta the lead.
Atalanta’s quality in attack proved the difference as their crisp passing created solutions to Fiorentina’s defensive approach. That was what earned them the win on Sunday night.
Atalanta will be happy with the way they controlled the game despite going 1-0 down early on. Their passing was crisp and allowed them to find Gomez and Ilicic in great positions which enabled them to go on and win the game for the Bergamo club. Fiorentina will be furious at once again conceding three goals, and they really need to sort their defensive game out before they can start competing for European places.
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