Serie A 2019/20: Atalanta vs Lazio – tactical preview
The game between Atalanta and Lazio is expected to be one of the most interesting post-break tactical battles. With both coaches being on charge of their teams for a few years now, it is safe to say that they have managed to build strategies that fit their players’ strengths perfectly.
Both teams have extremely pretty attack-minded approaches and have the top two attacking records in Serie A. Atalanta have scored the stunning 74 goals in the league so far, followed by Lazio with 60 goals and Juventus with 52.
There is no doubt that this is going to be a game full of tactical intelligence and the team with a smarter defensive approach and in-game flexibility will get the three points.
This preview in the form of tactical analysis aims to break down how they could expose each other and what tactics can be expected in their efforts to win.
Formations and style of play
Both Atalanta and Lazio have a lot of experience in their current formations and feel way more comfortable employing a back-three than most of the teams.
Atalanta’s signature formation 3-4-1-2/3-4-2-1 has earned them a lot of praise over the last couple of years and the great connection between the players has helped them become a constant in the top places of the league. The team’s main trait is that they use the players’ strengths in the best possible way and have built their approach regarding their abilities. That’s why the Bergamo team employ an attacking football with high tempo relying on creative and accurate actions in the final third.
They have been pretty successful against one of the best defences in Italy and lately in Champions League too. Having one of the most underrated attacking players in their squad has helped them in exposing well-structured defensive lines with their smart off the ball movement, passing and finishing abilities.
The team have a variety of attacking traits as apart from strong work under pressure and creativity in the box, they also impress with strong shooting from distance and solid set-piece performance. Their main advantage though is the players’ off the ball movement and spatial awareness, which often allow them to exploit the tiniest spaces and expose the opposition.
They’ll meet Lazio, who have finally managed to take their game to another level and by using 3-5-2/3-5-1-1 in possession has brought balance between the lines and allowed them to flourish both defensively and in attack.
Simone Inzaghi also put efforts into adjusting his strategy to his players and tried to improve the way they fir it. That’s among the reasons for their improved performance in the current season, despite they have been using this scheme previously too. Lazio have been a huge threat in front of the goal this term with Ciro Immobile being on his road of becoming the league top goalscorer.
The fluidity in the team’s build-up and their confident actions in the final third have been key so far, but what made them that successful is their defensive stability. They currently have the best defensive record in Serie A with only 23 conceded goals. The back-three often brings a lot of trouble to the teams that employ it, but Lazio’s movement and connection between the lines allow them to take advantage of it perfectly.
How Lazio could block Atalanta’s creative force?
While Lazio are performing strongly defensively, they need to create a good plan on how to stop Atalanta’s creativity and movement up front. The short pass combinations between Alejandro Gómez, Josip Iličić and the other attacking players, combined with the outstanding off the ball contribution by the wing-backs demand a high defensive awareness.
Lazio need to commit players on covering the flanks since Atalanta’s attacking force will drop immensely if the wing-backs’ movement is limited. They tend to rotate a lot in these areas, and stopping their attacks from there should decrease their efficiency. Meanwhile, limiting the space between the lines could be very important due to Gomez’s constant movement all over the final third.
With their win over Sassuolo, Atalanta showed that they can be extremely efficient even in the absence of Iličić, who is out with an ankle injury. This could though bring more confidence to Lazio’s experienced backline and increase their chances in covering the areas in and around the box.
Lazio should not allow being stretched out since every gap opened could be exploited thanks to Atalanta attackers’ impressive positional awareness. While they need to tightly cover the forward players, this could turn out too obvious. In cases when their space for movement is limited, the Bergamo team have players like Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens who like to move off the ball and act as an additional threat.
That’s why Lazio’s counter-press needs to be very smart, especially in the half-spaces, since Hateboer does like to cut inside quite often, while Gosens’ late runs to the box could catch Thomas Strakosha by surprise.
Lazio usually adjust their defensive positioning to their opponents’ strategy and of course have their wing-backs as support out of possession. In their defensive positioning, they usually rely a lot on Luiz Felipe’s pace and physical strength, while Francesco Acerbi’s and Ștefan Radu’s impact is more based on their tactical intelligence.
What stays the same is Lazio’s high-press efforts. They do try to win the ball back in the final third and trouble their build-up play. That’s where their biggest chance hides, as while Atalanta perform well at the back they do sometimes crack under pressure and the players are forced into individual mistakes. We’ll explain later in the analysis how they can expose Atalanta.
How Atalanta could bypass the press and penetrate?
As mentioned, Atalanta tend to use the wing-backs quite actively. They are among the main figures in all phases of the game, especially when it comes to their build-up play. Assuming Lazio would have examined their opponents quite well, their initial approach is going to be covering Hateboer and troubling the ball progression.
That could be a successful one, but Inzaghi should not forget about Atalanta’s key player in midfield, Mario Pašalić. The Croatian is key for the team during transitions and his passing abilities and movement could be crucial for them to bypass the press and successfully deliver the ball further. There is no doubt that Lazio are going to put efforts in blocking the passing lanes and having Marten de Roon next to Pašalić could help in opening these channels and advancing the ball.
What could be a winning strategy for Atalanta if their attacking options are limited is using Pašalić as a counter-attacking threat. He has proved to be very successful in these occasions and his accurate actions could help the team in exposing Lazio’s three-man defensive line. The fact that Felipe is injured and the team won’t be able to rely on his pace, increases La Dea’s chances to reach the final third more easily on a counter.
It is expected that Lazio will have more aggressive approach upfront, but they surely won’t neglect their defensive responsibilities. Assuming they do manage to block the opposition’s creativity and key players, Atalanta still have a secret threat in front of the goal.
When attacking-set pieces, La Dea’s opponents tend to tightly mark Duván Zapata, who has proved his outstanding aerial abilities many times. What Lazio should be very careful with the centre-defender José Luis Palomino. His positioning in the box and aerial performance has caused troubles to many teams and he is used exactly in cases when his teammates are tightly covered.
Gian Piero Gasperini has an additional option in attack if things don’t work out for him with his initial strategy. Bringing Ruslan Malinovskyi as a substitution could bring the team more versatility and help them become more unpredictable. Using him in attack might mean a switch of positions in order to overload the final third. They also tend to switch play in order to break through low blocks and that’s when the wings will need extra coverage by Lazio.
How Lazio can expose Atalanta?
Although they are constantly trying to win the ball back and perform well in defence, Atalanta sometimes allow to be easily exposed, especially against teams with a more aggressive attacking approach that apply intense pressure in the final third. Of course, the back-three increases the risk of conceding, especially if the line is highly positioned. It holds the risk of being vulnerable on a counter or of lacking support in the box if the wing-backs don’t position defensively quickly enough.
The team tend to allow being stretched out and dragged out of position, which Lazio will aim to achieve in efforts to open spaces for Immobile to exploit.
The team should also be careful with their challenges in and around the box. The centre-defenders often don’t perform adequately under pressure, and more skilful players like Luis Alberto could easily force them into individual mistakes costing them a lot. That’s why La Dea should try limiting Alberto’s movement while still in midfield, otherwise, their exposure increases a lot.
Gasperini does have a slightly better defensive option for the wing-back position in the face of Timothy Castagne in case he needs to make in-game changes and bring more stability. He focuses on his defensive responsibilities better than Hateboer and is also a good option for keeping the possession due to his ability to hold on to the ball.
Similarly to Lazio, Atalanta also apply high press. This always adds additional threat in front of the goal, but Lazio have experienced it throughout the season and have created a smart strategy of bypassing the press with the help of Acerbi. Since he is key for the team’s ball progression, he would often move behind the first pressing line in efforts to open the passing lanes. Things for Atalanta could go wrong from here if they don’t limit the space between the lines and allow Lazio to quickly transition to attack.
How Atalanta could stop Immobile?
The first thought of how to stop Immobile would be by trying to isolate him and block the other attacking players’ movement and passing lanes. With smart attackers like him though that wouldn’t be enough since apart from being the biggest threat in front of the goal he also shines with great creativity and passing abilities.
A more successful strategy could be assigning Palomino to follow him everywhere and cover him tightly, going into individual challenges with him. This approach turned out quite successful against Inter earlier this season. The Argentine managed to block Romelu Lukaku’s movement successfully and didn’t allow him any space throughout the game. Of course, Immobile and Lukaku are completely different forwards, but if Palomino achieved these results despite Lukaku’s physicality, he has better chances tomorrow.
Here is though where his teammates need to increase their awareness and mark Immobile’s teammates properly due to his passing abilities and spatial awareness.
Both teams will try everything to penetrate and get an advantage, but what is going to be more important is which team is going to employ it’s defensive tactics better. This analysis showed how Lazio could stop the best attack in Serie A, but also how Atalanta could expose the best defence in the league. The upcoming battle could show which coach has better tactical flexibility and can make the right in-game changes in order to turn things in their favour.