How can a result so joyous bring so much anger and frustration? If you could ask any of the fans, from either end of the Artemio Franchi Stadium on Monday night, they could have probably told you. Both sides finally closed the chapter on a hellish season with another stale result for each. Despite sealing safety, there were still lessons to be learned that each side should take notice of for next season, however.
In this tactical analysis, we shall see how Fiorentina and Genoa shaped up to primarily preserve their defence and how they did this rather well. Whilst both sides had attacking outlets to use, neither team proved to be particularly effective at making these viable, nor hardly seemed bothered by this.
For Fiorentina, their midfielders’ attempts at rotating into new spaces was weak and only forced the forwards to attempt the same, which gave them mostly limited chances from range. Genoa, on the other hand, were far more dependent on the home side making errors. However, in a game where overt offensiveness could have led to mutually assured destruction, each were satisfied to play for a draw.
Line-ups and starting formations
On paper, both of these sides lined up in recognisable and matching styles. Fiorentina hoped to finally find some luck with a 3-5-1-1. They’ve used this formation just three times this season in Serie A, but interestingly, twice within their prior five games.
In reality, this formation often evolved into a 4-4-2, however. A tactical analysis shows that Cristiano Biraghi often moved back into a more traditional left-back slot. This had the effect of pulling the midfield across to cover.
Facing them, Genoa opted to shape up in a 3-5-2/5-3-2. Genoa’s basic shape was relatively hard to define. Cesare Prandelli and his predecessors have preferred a three at the back formation this season. Yet, his squad selection confused things.
Domenico Criscito certainly added a defensive element to the left. On the other side, Pedro Pereira saw 37% of their attacks on his flank. All the same, Genoa were generally unwilling to attack anyway, as shown through their mediocre three shots on goal. It’s therefore easy to characterise them as overly defensive.
Tactical analysis: Fiorentina defending from the front
Federico Chiesa and Luis Muriel, from the onset of the game, clearly tried to prevent passing to deeper central options. Genoa continued to struggle to build attacks and Fiorentina became emboldened, as the game drew on. The basis of Fiorentina’s good defensive attackers was how well they managed to position themselves ahead of Genoa’s centre midfielders, preventing short passes to them.
In the below, we can see how Muriel and Chiesa, along with their wingers, shuffled across with a defensive screen. They are level with their markers, and the far-side midfielder retreats to solidify the midfield. The near side midfielder moves forward to prevent the pivot turning outside.
Fiorentina’s defensive statistics reflect how Genoa were unable to breach their defensive shell. None of Fiorentina’s defenders needed to attempt a single tackle, whilst both of their attackers recorded one each. Edimilson Fernandes, Jordan Veretout and Gerson completed the rest.
Likewise, we can see that the main passing impetus from Genoa was largely restricted to their defenders. Cristian Romero, Ervin Zukanović and Davide Biraschi recorded 61, 56 and 40 passes respectively. The former two recorded the most for the away side. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these were short, and mostly to one another.
Genoa, therefore, relied on mostly inaccurate long balls to advance play forwards. The number of long balls which Genoa made was highly disproportionate. They hit 77 long balls to Fiorentina’s 48, despite making only 53% of their total passes. Because of all this, it could be argued, Genoa really struggled to get any sort of attacking movement going.
Genoa’s second half 5-2-3
Whilst in the first half Genoa tried to react and break quickly, the second half saw them solidify and rarely launch attacks of their own accord. The resultant defensive formation was a 5-2-3 which utilised man-marking in its central areas.
Genoa’s 5-2-3 was clever, however. They actively encouraged Fiorentina to shift the ball into underpopulated areas, namely the inside right and left positions. Fiorentina attacked down the left side 48% of the time. The 5-2-3 allowed Fiorentina all the possession they wanted on this side. Genoa isolated the ball carrier on the byline and there was little chance of breaking through.
In the below graphics, we can see how Genoa baited their hosts down the byline. Firstly, three defensive lines form. Fiorentina moved into the vacated space to the left of the middle line – precisely what the visitors were hoping for.
Fiorentina were then trapped within a cavern of Genoa’s defensive mastery. It would be in this area that the home side would reign supreme. In all, 10 of Fiorentina’s 22 attempted tackles occurred in this inside left position. Spare options are tightly marked and the inside options cut off. Fiorentina’s only choices are down the line and towards the touchline.
After a tackle knocks the ball further towards the byline, a forward closes in whilst the midfielder pulls out and man-marks his opponent. The only option left for the winger to attack down is a well-covered area. The defence then easily pick off a pulled-back cross.
Fiorentina’s poor midfield display
Vincenzo Montella selected a five-man midfield. He clearly believed that the game would be won in the centre. The most noticeable aspect of their midfield play was how there was constant movement within it. The midfield three hoped to manipulate the man-to-man marking which Genoa’s midfield used.
Fiorentina held possession well, with 62% of the ball, but their midfielders were terrible at generating any sort of movement which would threaten the goal. We have to understand that simply switching positions does nothing for creating goal-scoring opportunities without obvious attacking intent.
Despite all of their possession, Fiorentina’s midfielders’ xG chain, a measure of how many goals were expected with certain players involved in moves, measured an average of just 0.16 for their five starting midfielders. Four of these scored 0.2, whilst Biraghi had 0.0. For context, Germán Pezzella, the centre back, racked up 0.13.
Fiorentina’s midfielders were often rotating into useless areas relative to the ball. A tactical analysis makes this painfully clear. Consequently, the forwards, particularly Chiesa, were having to drop into deeper areas, drawing themselves away from the goal.
A notable concern was Fernandes. The midfielder registered only 36 touches on the ball, the least of all of their starting XI, including their goalkeeper, Alban Lafont. More so, 16 of his 26 short passes were made just inside Genoa’s half, or from his own. Clearly, he was not even finding worthwhile positions to bump passes off.
In the below graphics, we see how Fernandes’ movement into an advanced position was ill-conceived. Both forwards were forced to drop deeper, leading to another speculative chance from distance.
Genoa’s stratified press
Genoa’s main attacking threat came from chances gained through the hard work of their forwards’ pressing. Even though Il Grifone did lack a desire to attack, Fiorentina’s excellent defensive block made any attempt to play from the back extremely difficult.
In the below graphics, a long clearance from Genoa appears under Fiorentina’s control. However, here were see Genoa’s press stratify. As Kouamé sprints to close down the goalkeeper, Pandev swipes by the original ballplayer to try to force an error. Daniel Bessa sees that the Fiorentina defender has now become a potential outlet, and pushes high himself.
Genoa had a stacked, multi-layered defensive strategy, with Christian Kouamé leading the line. Playing behind the Ivorian, Goran Pandev chased the passing options, whilst a centre midfielder closely tailed him and put pressure on the next ball.
Below, Bessa cuts out a stray pass from the goalkeeper. He then uses this to leapfrog into a one-two with Pandev. Kouamé is still in the middle, the splintered press allowing him to stay in an advanced position.
Bessa’s heat map corroborates that he spent a surprising amount of time higher up the pitch, close to Fiorentina’s left back position. He was quick to move forwards, despite Genoa often being penned within their own half.
This tactic, we must remember, was not designed to produce a huge amount of chances in one game. Genoa made only one tackle outside of their own half, and no interceptions in Fiorentina’s portion of the pitch. However, this tactic could have worked, as Lafont was called from his area five times to meet passes.
These types of fixtures are not called “bore draws” for nothing. This game was flat, unexciting and deserving of the boo’s directed from the four corners of the ground. In terms of tactical analysis, it was also frustrating as neither side had to necessarily discourage the other from attacking.
All the same, both sides’ lack of attacking impetus should not take away from the fact that this was a game of ultimate survival. Neither side looked to attack, but defensive rigidity was prized. We saw some excellent examples of brilliant defensive work. Arguably, had the game been more competitive, these would have been harder to extract.
If this is the case, the game can best be termed as something of a “silver-linings playbook”, if you will. Essentially, both Montella and Prandelli will be happy to have found the ultimate saving grace – a confirmed season still in Serie A. One thing is for sure, however: both coaches will be hoping that next season their respective sides will build on their proven tactical understanding and discipline.
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