Genoa 2022/23: How Alberto Gilardino has put Il Grifone on course for Serie A return with his exciting tactics – scout report
In recent years, we have been treated to a nice batch of nostalgia in the form of former players trying their hand at management. From the Bundesliga to the Premier League to the Serie A we’ve seen names like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Xabi Alonso, Mikel Arteta, Albert Riera, Vincent Kompany, and more take their first steps in management to varying success. Another name that will be extremely familiar to many is Alberto Gilardino, who is currently working wonders in Serie B with Genoa.
Gilardino’s managerial career began in 2019, and in that time, he’s had stints with Rezzato, Pro Vercelli, and Sienna. In fact, he was only appointed Genoa gaffer on a temporary basis in December 2022 but was confirmed as the club’s permanent manager after a strong run of results. Since Gilardino returned to the club he played 50 games for between 2012-2014, Genoa have lost just once in the league, keeping numerous clean sheets and scoring a healthy amount of goals.
This scout report will dive into the tactics behind Genoa’s strong defensive record, aka pressing, while also providing an analysis of their midfield unit’s contribution when it comes to build-up play, as we look to uncover why the club are on course for an immediate return to Serie A. We will also analyse Genoa’s efficiency in hitting teams on the break as they have been incredibly dangerous in attacking transitions under the guidance of Gilardino.
The formation visual above paints a picture of what shapes Genoa have deployed throughout the whole season, meaning it includes data from before Gilardino’s reign began. As you can see, before the ex-striker rejoined the Serie B club, they were no strangers to two formations in particular – 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, but since the World Cup winner has been in charge, they haven’t used either of those formations.
Instead, Gilardino has been seen to favour a host of other shapes – 4-3-3 has been the most common, but the last three games has seen use of 3-4-2-1 and 3-5-2. Of the 10 games that Gilardino has been in charge, he has used 4-3-3 in half of them, winning four and drawing one. 3-5-2 has been used three times and 3-4-2-1 twice – the first three times that Genoa used a three-at-the-back system under Gilardino they have failed to win, but they have won their last two games doing so, scoring five and conceding none, so perhaps the work on the training ground is starting to pay off.
In terms of style of play, Genoa look to dominate games. They like to pin the opponent deep in their own half and utilise patient build-up play that often includes short passes. In essence, they look to execute a high and wide shape in possession, with the wing-backs often playing very high up as they look to stretch the opposition. Upon reaching the final third, their play style varies depending on the situation – they are not strangers to launching crosses into the box but they are also capable of working the ball into the box via a series of passing combinations.
Midfielders in build-up phases
Like most teams who play a possession-based game, Genoa’s midfielders play a vital role in getting the ball up the pitch, but their positioning in possession phases also plays an important part in the team’s overall shape. From contributing to play in deeper areas to being the main creative outlet in the final third, Genoa sure do have some impressive players in this area of the pitch. In this segment, we will look at how the midfielders generally tend to operate when their side has possession.
The shape in the image above is what Genoa want to do on the ball when given the chance. The opposition’s shape and depth definitely help them, with no pressure being applied to the ball. Kevin Strootman and Milan Badelj are two vastly experienced midfielders with important technical attributes that play a huge part in Genoa’s system.
As you can see above, they like to drop in deeper to receive the ball before looking to move their team forward, but there’s more to it than that. Notice their positioning – their presence acts as defensive protection which allows the RCB and LCB to adopt a higher and wider position; where you’d usually expect to find a full-back! Badelj and Strootman’s positioning is a small yet interesting detail – they tend to sit in between the middle CB and the RCB/LCB (whichever is on their side). This brings the benefit of defensive cover and also a range of passing options.
This next image shows us how Genoa aim to shape up once they have the ball further up the pitch in wide areas. Let’s start by mentioning the positioning of the wide CBs (blue highlighted) – again, they take up a fullback-esque position which allows them to offer support to the wing-backs when they have the ball but also gives that defensive cover in wide areas.
The red-highlighted players are the midfielders in a 3-5-2 shape. Strootman and Badelj push up with the rest of the team but remain deeper than the respective wide CBs to maintain that defensive structure and limit the chance of an opposition counterattack. The attacking midfielder rarely strays from the centre until possession reaches the final third, instead looking to pick up unmarked spaces in the middle to receive the ball when possible. Interestingly, despite building possession into the image you see above, this was one of those times when Genoa opted for an early cross from deep instead of a piece of patient build-up play.
We just mentioned how the attacking midfielder likes to pick up open spaces to receive the ball in, and fewer in Serie B are better at that than Albert Gudmundsson. The Iceland international is a winger by trade but has also proven his worth in a central role as well, giving Genoa a priceless element of versatility. In the example above, he receives the ball from his wing-back after scanning the area and finds himself closer to the referee than an opposition player. When Gudmundsson receives the ball, particularly in situations like this one, his instinct is to drive forward quickly and launch an attack.
His lightning pace allows for possession to be quickly transitioned from one area of the pitch to another, making it extremely for the opposition to defend against. After a quick and dazzling run from his own half, Gudmundsson plays a well-timed and well-executed pass through a poorly organised opposition backline into the path of his teammate up front, who goes on to put the ball in the back of the net.
Gudmundsson has become a vital cog in the Genoa machine, whether he plays on the wing or in the middle. His raw attacking intent combined with his pace and good footwork can make him a nightmare to play against at times. At the time of writing, the former PSV man has six league goals with five assists, not a bad return at all!
His work in terms of carrying the ball is particularly impressive, and as you can see by the visual above, he isn’t shy at doing so! He pops up in a variety of areas with these carries and can be especially dangerous in the event of a counterattack. His current total of 13 penetrating carries highlights his ability to take the ball into dangerous areas in the box.
This image allows us to take a quick look at how the midfielders will sometimes join the attacking unit when their side need to increase the intensity when on the hunt for a goal. The man on the ball is a defender, which serves as an indication of what Genoa were looking to achieve in this particular scenario. The width was provided by both wing-backs, and in fact, it was the RWB who got on the end of a nicely-lofted pass to find a late goal, but Genoa’s heavy presence in the box was made possible by the addition of the midfielders, who joined the strikers.
Off the ball: Counterpressing & the high press
Many teams who are high energy on the ball, are similar in approach off the ball. Genoa are no different in that respect. The defensive aspect of their game has played a massive part in the success they’ve tasted under Gilardino – they have conceded just five goals in 10 games, including seven clean sheets. On average, they face an xG of 1.05 this season, facing 8.82 shots per 90 minutes – those numbers are taken from the entirety of the season so will be lower in Gilardino’s reign alone, but it highlights the work they do off the ball to limit the opponent’s chance on goal.
When losing the ball amid an attack, as they did in the image above, they look to shut down any chance of an opposition counterattack. And it is in moments like this that you really begin to see just how much the players have bought into Gilardino’s tactics. The opponent on the ball is immediately pressed, and his teammate is swarmed by two more Genoa shirts upon receiving the ball, causing him to give the ball away. The pressure being applied by attacking players also gives the defenders a chance to regroup properly.
In scenarios when the opposition have possession in their own half, Gilardino’s men will rarely sit back to soak up the pressure. The attackers will press (nearest man chasing the ball), with support often coming from nearby midfielders, with the full-backs often pushed up too. One thing they need to look out for when executing these presses is the space they leave in midfield. The yellow-highlighted opponent is in a dangerous space, but fortunately for Genoa, he wasn’t seen by those on the ball – but the potential was there.
Since Alberto Gilardino took the Genoa hot seat, they have been a menace off the ball. They are well drilled in counterpressing to block opposition counterattacks, but also show a good ability to recognise pressing triggers at other times as well. In the 10 games under Gilardino, they have made 103 high regains, showing real consistency in winning the ball back in higher areas. 26 of these regains ended with a shot being taken within 20 seconds of the turnover, indicating a real ability in attacking transitions, which we will talk about in more detail below in this tactical analysis.
Fluidity in attacking transitions
High pressing/counterpressing goes hand in hand with attacking transitions/counterattacking, and Genoa have made it look like an art form at times this season. As soon as they win the ball back, you can see the switch flick in everyone’s head – the instinct to get into supportive positions higher up the pitch quickly. As mentioned, they are skilled in attacking quickly after regaining the ball, regardless of where on the pitch the turnover occurs.
This first example highlights Genoa’s ability to use the opposition’s disjointed defensive unit for their own gain, and often look to outnumber their opponents in these moments of transition. Gudmundsson pops up quite often in these situations, and he has shown a good knack for drawing the defenders in to create even more space in dangerous areas for his teammates to exploit, which is exactly what he did in the image above. Fully aware that there will be at least one teammate arriving to his left, he waited for the perfect moment to set his teammate up with a simple pass.
This example really demonstrates their deadly nature in transitions, like sharks smelling blood. Their pressure on the ball pays off, and as ever, they’re ready to strike when the ball comes into their control. Again, an important part of Genoa’s general attacking play is exploiting space in the final third, and this varies from attack to attack, and it’s the same with transitional attacks.
You will rarely see Genoa playing lofted balls into the channel, but that was the perfect move to hurt the opponent in the example above. As the striker collected the ball in the wide area, this in turn drew out an opposition defender, leaving one less white shirt in the box, and more space for his teammates to exploit once the cross arrives.
Genoa have been one of the form sides in European football under Alberto Gilardino, and while it looks unlikely that they will capture the Serie B league title, automatic promotion is in their hands – they simply need to continue with strong defensive performances and keep developing in attack to seal their return to Serie A.
Gilardino’s impressive tactics have made his team unplayable on their day, from counterpressing to block opposition counterattacks to deadly counterattacks, to clever positional play from the midfield unit, the success Genoa are having under the Serie A legend is no fluke.