With the squad almost decided – Berardo being a no-go due to him not accepting a contract as a squad player and Chiaroda costing upwards of €30m – we set off for the USA for a string of friendlies following a quick friendly against our feeder team, Sudtirol. A squad of forty men was selected for the trip, of which we’ve played the first two friendlies of. Full details can be seen by clicking on the images below.
I like to really get in depth with different things across the save and, coming off the back of some development and recruitment stuff, it’s always nice to think tactically, even if it’s in games that we are – and should be – winning at a canter. I feel that meaningless friendlies against local amateur sides are utterly meaningless as there is nothing learnt and only goals scored. However, I had no say in the game against Serie C side Sudtirol, whose lineup included Poli, the youngster I’d just sent on loan to them.
With the slight tactical adjustment in the latter part of the season working pretty well, allowing Joao Roberto more license to get forward, I wanted to explore just how far I could take that. I tend to watch the games in pretty high amount of detail and keep some notes but, when we’re winning – as we have done in the league a lot over the past couple of years – the tendency is to somewhat sweep the things under the rug and move on, getting the three points. Even in the Sudtirol tie, I was disappointed with the attacking positioning and, in fact the overall shape was disjointed – not the 3-box-3 that I think creates the most space to move the ball quickly between the lines. I know that the formation feels pretty hipster right now as Pep, Klopp and De Zerbi are coming up with their versions of it, but, for our style and the pace and power we have going forward, I really think that it’s useful.
My first thought was to look at what Ragatzu was doing as a WM(s) – so I looked at what his role suggests.
Clearly, a WP(s) felt more appropriate for this role and, by tweaking the marking roles of the Mez(a) as well as using the underlap left instruction, keeping the IWB(a) on Positive and the WP(s) also on Positive – without it, he was on Attacking and that’d only further disrupt the box/diamond shape, I felt that I would have an answer to this. I did not, necessarily, however I was treated to the absolute carnage that Santos and Zenga produced together. Fun times could be ahead.
Against Charlotte, I did manage to do what I wanted and a perfect 3-box-3 shape was achieved, however, that was for a matter of seconds and it used an asymmetrical formation – something that I would say I’m against, given that the AI does not use them. The Miami tie saw an entirely different shape – a 4-3-3. I must say that the overall positions with the ball looked great and there were numerous good examples of the box midfield with Ragatzu employing the CM(s) with ‘Get Forward More Often’ ticked. I watched pretty intently at his play in, ironically, his worst game of the summer so far, as seen below:
I switched between the CM(a) and CM(s) role – not wanting to use the playmaker role if I could help it and came to the conclusion that the CM(s) sits off the front line a little bit more, waiting for the ball to get into the final third before driving towards the box: the perfect tip to the midfield diamond, in my eyes. However, one of the reservations of the 4-3-3 has always been the defensive positioning following a turnover and that was evident here. We’ve conceded a phenomenal nineteen goals in the last seventy-six league games with this 4-1-4-1 shape, scoring 140; I don’t want to rush into changes that may impact this but I do feel that I need more strings to the tactical bow. This shape seems to create a bit more confusion – granted, there was a penalty and a Mac Allister free kick in the Miami tie but we had some great chances on the counter but I can’t let us become more defensively fragile – although neither goal came from anything to actually worry about.
I think that this shape needs to be tried out against tougher, Serie A level opposition before I either write it off or try and integrate it properly. There are many positives to it but I must take them with a pinch of salt considering the main reason we’re in the southern part of the USA is to generate some extra income, rather than play against top quality opposition. Those times will come.
I’ve purposely front-loaded the minutes for Zenga and Kean here, giving Lorenzo Lucca just 17 in total. Now I’ve come a little closer to a conclusion with this shape and style, I want to move on to looking at how I can make that different to include the power and height of the Italian forward. I have four more friendlies in which to do that:
Forza La Dea!
Full match reports can be found by clicking the thumbnails, above.
We end our trip to the USA with a simple win against Tampa Bay Rowdies but, quite annoyingly, end conceding in every game. I decided to change the style slightly and give Lorenzo Lucca ninety minutes. To do that, I slowed the tempo a little and increased the passing length, floating crosses in a little earlier. Both of his goals came from these opportunities and a knock down was blasted in by Kean for a third contribution for the big striker. It’s early but I am confident that this change of plan could be vital going forward.
For the visit of Chievo, I opted for the same 4-3-3 shape but back to the traditional style in order to iron out a few things against some more familiar foe. I think I’ve settled on the IF(s)/IW(a) combo on the wings, as you’ll see. I have set both wingers to mark the ML/MR areas so that they tuck back in and help us defensively but I like that our out of possession shape can quickly change into an aggressive, transitional shape within three or four seconds. There was a time when Wisdom Amey became Levi Colwell as we looked to bait the press with his boot on the ball. This move, actually, led to this position within just two passes and Sottil netted our second: I feel that this may be vertical enough. The last screenshot is maybe even better: it shows Fusari stepping out with the ball and then breaking the lines with a pass to Zenga, who then feeds in Memaj to score. What I like most is that we tend to build down the left more, as that is the side of the IWB(a) and the side that Fusari – the target of the goal kicks – is on, but having the AF(a) and IW(a) both on the right hand side makes a nice little overload. Once the centre back had committed to follow Zenga, he was 1v1 as was Memaj, who, as I spoke about before, is lightning quick. Once we are in that situation, nobody is catching my winger and he was left with a pretty simple finish.
I guess that the only thing missing here is having the ability to switch that around and build up on the right. I think both Amey and Bruno are capable of doing that job and Pacifico is actually right footed anyway – it’ll just be finding a solid enough outside left centre back, who is left footed. Potentially Andrea De Zerbi could be that man but I’ll wait to see how the shape works on the left before jumping to conclusions here.
With the trio of Costa, Bruno and Luca De Zerbi back from the Olympics, I put them all to the test in the toughest pre-season tie, against Betis – not for match fitness but for tactical understanding. It was Costa who assisted the opener for Zenga before a Ragatzu penalty made the scoreline safe. This is exactly what I want from my football here: letting Betis have the ball but offering little to no threat but always having the option of Zenga and our other advanced players. Marzio completed just six passes but still managed two shots on target and a goal. The epitome of an advanced forward showing up in the most complete performance of the pre-season!
A rotated squad ran out as fairly comfortable winners against Como to end the pre-season with a 100% record! The only point of contention here was my thoughts about playing as a 10 after Moise Kean was sent off for an utterly horrific challenge. I’ve no answers to this which can be carried over, but I do need to really consider what to do in what circumstance. We only recorded one red card last season – the league lowest – so it’s not a common occurrence, but, ultimately, one that needs a plan just incase…
Full match reports can be found by clicking the thumbnails, above.
An opening day win against a good side. Our first goal again felt like a tactical win: we’ve occupied their defenders with a clever run from Navarro that has left Santos and Zenga 1v1 with their defenders and Ragatzu driving forward. His clever pass through the half space was met by Santos, who deftly chipped the keeper for a debut goal. The second also felt good too – asking Pilenga, the DM, to take the throw in, allowing the three man rest defence to stay as well as some ‘considered confusion’ of asking the LB to stand on the near post meant that we were hard to mark and, eventually, when the ball came into substitute Costa, he finished with aplomb. The whole game was key for me – so soon after our dismal performance that probably cost us the league title at the end of last year, so it was good to see how the new midfield worked. With eleven progressive passes for Ragatzu and eight dribbles for Navarro, we still felt positive and direct without feeling gung-ho and letting the dangerous attacking threat of Verona to have a chance. We still need to be better with our shot selection – nine attempts from outside the box for a combined 0.42xG – just 0.046xG/shot would back up my claim that, if we don’t catch them quite on the break, our high tempo game does lead to this. However, it’s about balancing it out and, when this type of shot becomes the norm, adapting the way we play: in the case, Lorenzo Lucca.
The joy of a strong win is that I am not forced into any changes. With Jose Cristiano now fit, I chose to not start him, keeping faith with Navarro and trying to create some deep rooted competition within my first team. Another point I’m trying to make is picking players on training performance – which meant Pacifico (9.00) rating, got the nod over Joao Roberto (6.85). Whilst I can’t tell Joao that, I can tell Antonio that he’s trained well and hope that it clicks to why he got a starting berth. Also forcing my hand was a six week lay off for Lucca, which will hopefully not be a sign of his time at the club. With that being said, I was still able to name a strong lineup for the big derby game against newly-promoted Brescia. The result was never really in doubt but, again, there are some things to pick out: our first goal was, again, through some overloads on the right in the initial build up before a quick switch of play and our second was when you allow a playmaker with the ability of Ragatzu have all the space and time to drive forward but our shooting – a 1.48xG underperformance may come back to haunt us against better teams.
The early season league table brings nothing to note except for us being above Juve. Piacenza are the only newly promoted side to get a victory in their opening two games, demolishing Pescara on the opening day. Interestingly, our xG stats (4 goals from 5.43) are quite similar – in terms of underperformance – to Juve’s three goals from 4.97xG. Likewise, Napoli have 4.82xG with only three goals to show.
Our Champions League group phase fixtures have been drawn and we’ve, somehow, managed to get both sides of el Classico, which will probably see our 100% record from last year not followed through. Big spending AEK – now with the combined €100m+ Daramy, Schlotterback and Sohm adding to their array of riches have to visit, as do Legia and Athletic with the first two – hopefully – being pretty simple wins. Travelling to Eindhoven and Liege, for a club with ambitions to win the title, should see us bringing back six points too although the Lyon tie will, undoubtedly be a tough one.
The first big tie of the season comes when we travel to the San Siro to face Inter, who haven’t done much to improve this summer, if I’m honest…
Forza La Dea!
Full match reports can be found by clicking the thumbnails, above.
A month where I’ve stepped away from the detailing writing and just enjoyed the playing. I must say that the move to the more traditional 4-3-3 shape has helped immensely, as we are able to create tactical shapes and danger that I was beginning to feel would be impossible to do. I am in the process of recreating this on the other side, working out who is best placed to become the third centre back when we attack – likely to be De Zerbi at present. I will then look at ways in which it is sensible to move between these shapes, countering strong left or right hand sides of the opposition, watching them to work out their in-game roles. Once that is done, I want to look at how we can create different shapes in the build up: maybe turning the diamond to more of a box with a double pivot in a 4-3-2-1 shape. More thoughts and ideas in a season that must just continue to offer the (near) perfection that is has done. In the league, we’ve been amazing – running riot against Genoa and Sassuolo but also being able to grind out victories, such as that against ten man Inter. We’ve looked a little off in the Champions League, failing to overcome AEK until substitute Memaj did exactly what I wanted for him to do – run at tired defenders. A defeat at the Bernabeu ended the month in, probably, expected fashion.
It certainly feels a lot like ‘whatever we can do, Juve can do, better’ but we’ve done everything that we can to start well and pull away from the likes of Milan and Inter. If this season, again, comes down to a two-horse race, then so be it; I know we’re a better team than last year based on both my input into the game at the moment and how we’re performing.
I’d really like to continue our 100% record looking at the fixtures for October, but time will tell!
Forza La Dea!
Full match reports can be found by clicking the thumbnails, above.
An unbeaten October, yet two draws which, hopefully, won’t come back to haunt us at the end of the season. Bologna really frustrated us and, even though some tinkering – mirroring the usual 3-box-3 to the side to try and exploit any kind of weakness just did not work. Points on the road are important, but, again, that conversation around a shot xG of just 0.05 is a concern: we’re not able to break through teams who naturally sit back against us. We’ll find that happening much more as time goes on and is already pretty evident in the fact that the majority of games this season so far have seen us have more of the ball than our opponents – a big change from the Atalanta underdogs that we were the season before last and even into last season. Gerardo Seoane and, usually, Marko Milovanoic have long been a thorn in my side but the combination of the training week – focusing on aerial defence and more defensive shape, below – as well as some clever tactical instructions – using Okoli to man mark – meant that we were rather dominant.
Some pleasing Champions League progress following with two of the best goals I’ll see all season: Mac Allister from 25 yards, showing that he’s still a dead ball master, which gave us the lead eighteen minutes after Telletxea produced an immaculate lob over Carnesecchi’s head from near thirty yards out. The goal that Harry Souttar scored was far less pleasing – a free header from a corner. A slightly tweaked shape – trying to create different type of 3-box-3 shape, using a double pivot and aggressive, wide, wingbacks led to Andrea Bruno being the furthest man forward and taking advantage of a rare opportunity in front of goal. The month ended with another draw, and, annoyingly, another set piece goal as Plesko nodded in. I need to spend some time working through what has gone wrong in these goals and whether we’re training these situations enough. Clearly, teams are now seeing that we’re virtually impenetrable in open play so they need to find another way through and set plays may be that way. Our equaliser was scored by Jose Cristiano, who himself becomes a contender for goal of the season with a screamer from twenty-five yards. I’ve been really impressed with the competition that I’ve built between him and Navarro in the centre of midfield, as seen here:
Two tireless, tenacious players who will cover ground and help in all phases of play, yet, still offering slightly different options for me. Jose is more suited to progressing the ball and advancing towards an end target whereas Navarro also possesses a bit more bite in the tackle. Importantly, one is left footed (Navarro), whilst the other is right and that means I can quite easily switch the method of attacking whilst maintaining a wider option who is suitable on the outside. Likewise, I can play both at the bottom of the diamond if I need to add a bit more progressive action from deeper, although I haven’t quite considered who would play ahead of them – maybe Ragatzu in a 4-2-3-1 – with these two as the double pivot.
I’m happy with where we are in the league at present. I’ve said it a lot but we have to be perfect. That includes capitalising on mistakes. Juve lost and we didn’t. Perfect. We are ahead, albeit by one point but that’s enough at the end of the season. Behind us, Napoli are the most unfortunate team in the league but it is Roma – now under Roberto De Zerbi – who are much better than last season under Steven Gerrard and actually playing some nice football. In a hark back to olden days, Fiorentina are there, too and gave us a pretty good match last time out. Milan and Inter have started really slowly whilst Lecce and Verona, the two surprises of last season have not fared as well, yet.
A tougher month with a visit from Napoli and a trip to Lyon. I’m excited for what we can do!
Forza La Dea!
All in all, a pretty strong November as we continue to push on across both fronts.
Some interesting takeaways included the 4-2-3-1 shape that I started with against Legia, although the VOL(s) quickly turned to VOL(a). Furthermore, I remembered the issues with the IWB when already playing a double pivot – that, basically, he won’t invert. However, the ‘box’ shape was evident, but not quite as clear. The game was made far more memorable though when somehow Ragatzu picked out Zenga for his second. The rest of the month ebbed and flowed: a poor draw with Pescara before a left wing overload – using the 4-2-3-1 shape with an IF(s) and SS(a) – the latter in the AMLC slot, causing enough trouble to see us take a late lead against a resilient Sampdoria side.
I think that I am at peace now with my decision to sell Gavi last summer and I really feel that Daniele Ragatzu has grown into those shoes. You can see below how they have performed this season, when compared with other attacking minded midfielders across the big leagues:
Certainly, Daniele is holding his own!
I wanted to take it a little further and extrapolate some data in Microsoft Excel. I’ve spoken a lot about my tactical play and how I like to take risks to move the ball forward aggressively. I wanted to see how my midfielders were doing compared to the aforementioned Gavi, and the two best midfielders in the world right now: Ilaix Moriba and Jude Bellingham. To create this data, I collated the players progressive passes and dribbles (assuming that most are forward in nature) in order to create a ‘Progressive’ measure and combined that with the amount of times they lose possession, indicating how safe or risky they are. The dotted lines show the median (50th percentile) values for each. The percentile next to each name is possession lost (1st percentile is most lost and 99th is least) on the left and progressive actions (1st percentile least progressive and 99th most progressive) on the right:
To have all three of my central midfielders in the top three percent of European midfielders in terms of progressive play is fantastic. Their job is to win the ball and take it up field towards an Advanced Forward, who offers little in the build up play and they are doing just that. It’s interesting to see that Gavi progresses the ball much less – although that is somewhat less of a surprise when you see that it’s still a Pep team that he plays for. Whilst both Jude and Ilaix are slightly different types of players to the three I’ve highlighted, I would like to see a reduction in the number of times that my trio lose the ball but that can’t come at the expense of their ability to get the ball forward quickly.
Things are looking good!
We sit three points atop of the league with a health goal difference and doing well. Still, the two Milan sides struggle and – as of yet – Verona and Lecce have not made a move. Napoli are the most unlucky side, with an xG underperformance of nearly 8.00 and they should, statistically, sit third. I’ve been tracking a lot of our metrics across the season and they’ll show up in various reports as I go but I wanted to focus in on the below statistics, which are created taking a five-game rolling average of the statistic.
As you can see, we started the season off creating a load of xG – the 3.48xG against Brescia in gameweek two was a season high for us and, naturally, it has tailed off. We’ve had a couple of frustrating draws – creating 1.5xG against Lazio and scoring once was the only time that we’ve scored but underperformed on xG: vs Fiorentina we accrued 0.6xG for our 1-1 draw. These things are promising. I’ve spoken about the low xG/shot ratio and I’m happy to see that, of late, that’s catching up a little. I have every faith that steady rotation and encouraging good form will keep my forwards in form now that they’re being presented with better opportunities.
December is tough! I look at those badges and see a plethora of teams I like: Roma, because, well, why wouldn’t you?! And Totti, De Rossi, Balbo, Montella etc etc; Barcelona, because, Messi; Palermo because they were one of my first Italian ventures: pink kit and representing Sicily. However, I need to do well against these sides. I want at least eight points in the league and, with that, should head into Christmas top of the league!
Forza La Dea!
What a month! I targeted eight points in the league but took ten as well as a real sign of intent in the Champions League.
We were frustrated by Roma and Milan, to some extent, but in the latter our constant threat paid off as Santos netted the winner. Against Barca, as mentioned, we let them have the ball and just hit them on the counter time and time again. The Juventus Stadium saw a gritty game but one that we came away victorious in, giving us a commanding lead at the top of the table, before my second choice squad rounded the year off with a comprehensive win against Palermo, with a double from Lorenzo Lucca.
As we near half way point, all of our metrics look good – however, there are a couple of issues that are creeping in. We’re becoming far less secure at converting our shots: sometimes this is due to the distance (and quality) of them, but there are elements to rotation and keeping my strikers in form that I need to consider as we move into the new year.
The table looks great at Christmas! Seven points to Juve and an imperious defensive record, as we look to best the eight conceded last year in a considerable more aggressive tactical style, too. Roma and Fiorentina have kept the pace whilst both Milan sides have really struggled this year, much to my delight. At the bottom, newly promoted Sampdoria are cut adrift but there is hope for newly promoted Piacenza and my feeder team, SPAL, who haven’t quite hit the heights they did a few years back.
January feels nicer. Full points and a couple of additions to the squad would see in 2033 really well for me!
Forza La Dea!
We’re good. Very, very good.
We’ve decimated pretty much anything in front of us, playing some fantastic football, until we got to the derby against Brescia, anyway. Lots of sitting back and watching beautiful football, crafted by fantastic players and a lot less of analytical thoughts and tactical tweaks at this stage.
Just the one incoming this month and a big one: our record buy! Joao Moura (full screenshot can be found by clicking on the thumbnail above) is a huge upgrade when looked at in comparison with Wisdom Amey, who I decided to cash in on. His move to big-spending AEK will earn him €155k per week and I’ve got the better player at the end of it! For our €34.5m, I think I’ve got the perfect third centre back. A man who is supremely confident across all defensive areas but also possesses a few fantastic skills that make him more suited to the wide role: namely his Crossing and overall physical nature. What is more – he’s virtually two footed so can slot in at right back if I want to attack down the left and at left back if I want to switch it round. At 21, he’s not even the finished article and I think we’ve potentially, in Moura – Okoli – Fusari – Joao Roberto, the strongest defense in Europe.
These things do come at a cost. If I want to grow, I will need to continue to make, and keep promises, such as Zenga’s contract demands. Fortunately, a deal worth €110k p/w – making him my top earner, marginally – was quite easy to negotiate for a player who I also consider to be among the top players in Europe right now: 1.28 goals/90 certainly adds weight to that argument.
Arriving in mid-January and ineligible for the Champions League
Things are looking somewhat sealed, already. When you look at our comparative stats (a new panel I’ve just built in the skin), you’ll see that we don’t really lead the league in anything other than dribbles and keeping teams out of our defensive areas, but, right now, it’s just the ‘perfect storm’ in that everything we touch is turning to gold. We’re simply unstoppable and, whatever team I put out, we are able to dominate and perform to a really high standard. It is, with the probable first-ever Scudetto coming to Bergamo that I see my stint here as being ‘done.’ I’d love to win the Champions League and I’ll see how we go this season but I do feel that this ultra high level of league does not suit what I want to do in FM – and that is to develop youth and then build something tactical to get the best out of them. Granted – I’ve brought Lanzo, Ragatzu, Costa, Zenga, Luca De Zerbi, Andrea De Zerbi, Memaj, Ferrigno and Pacifico into the first team during my near-four-year reign here but it’s so easy to ignore the bigger club picture of developing all of the players – when I know that 90% of them aren’t even going to kick a ball for the first team, especially as we get stronger and stronger.
There is no ‘natural career plan’ after reaching these heights but I do fancy the idea of some sabbatical time before moving home to Buenos Aires – potentially via the MLS. As both leagues follow the calendar, they’ll be at their midpoint at the end of this season so I may keep my eyes peeled, knowing that this Atalanta squad could potentially go on to get stronger and stronger providing the right successor for me is found.
That being said, I’ll give February the best shot that I can and I’m totally committed to this job – for the time being.
Forza La Dea!
A lovely run out for some youngsters in the cup against Serie B side Gubbio. It was, however, left to Luciano Costa to open the scoring before U20 striker, and debutant, Guariniello, scoring a lovely half volley from the edge of the area.
I wanted to take a deeper look at the different threats of Lazio’s 4-4-2 – a shape I’ve always struggled with. Initially, I lined up like this, with the intention of creating more of a box than a diamond. I decided to switch up a few things as I watched the early encounters: the IWB(d) moved to an IWB(s) but Bruno still formed the bottom vertex of the box, despite some more risk in his game and he moved earlier; split the two MCs into a DLP(s) and AP(s) with the intention of trying to get them to stagger between Lazio’s lines and then focused play through the centre. My intention was to create a 4v2 overload in the centre of the pitch, or, ideally, get them to bring in their wider men, nullifying their own attacking threats. Here, you can see that we are quite early in our build up and haven’t shifted the box inside but still have our two creators 1v1 with their midfielders – who I’d identified don’t like defending too much. Here is an example of when they’ve brought their left sided midfielder in to deal with that 1v1 situation but then that made me think of another query, with the point driven home here. Ragatzu, in the first image, went over the top to find Zenga and also did in the second image but there is so much space – without a DM – that there is an easier ball. I, therefore, brought Zenga off and went with De Zerbi as a F9(s) in order to try and create a ball into him that can go quickly out to Lanzo/Santos, who may have created a 1v1. In the end, it didn’t work – in scoreline alone. Creating that much xG, with quality chances, but not finding the win, is tough – especially when Carboni’s goal came from a rare Fusari mistake, but I will continue to experiment tactically, somewhat in preparation for what I hope my managerial future brings.
In Genoa, we faced another 4-4-2 but Blessin’s side, unlike Lazio, had the third worst xGA this season – with 35.37. They press hard and lead the league in terms of ball recoveries but are also the most wasteful with it, losing it 3345 times (152.05 per 90) this season. The use out and out wingers but rank only 18th in cross conversion so my plan is to play centrally, like we did against Lazio but then force them wide. I’d opted for the 4-2-3-1 shape despite the known issues around an inverted wing back with a double pivot – simply because I wanted a man further forward, occupying the space between the defence and midfield that we didn’t get against Lazio until I opted for a F9. But, with a poor xGA, we were likely to get chances so wanted Zenga on the pitch to finish. I also opted – experimentally – for the ‘Invite Crosses’ when looking at the crossing stats but also the size of their forwards as well as to use the ‘Play out of Defence’ in order to try and work our way, methodically, through their high press to counter. What we got was quite a tough watch…I quickly moved Joao Roberto to a CWB(a) to create a 3-3-1-3 shape, similar to how I’ve done in the past and spent ages funnelling play down our left in order to overload the space left from their wingback but we just could not finish our dinner! 0.6xG for Zenga, 0.4xG for Ragatzu (whose goal actually counted for a mere 0.02xG) means we’ve underperformed our xG for the last two league games. I tried to chop and change – play people in different areas and exploit different weaknesses I saw but, given the outcomes of the last two games – may just have been better leaving it alone!
The ‘backup’ squad comfortably beat Bologna before the first of the double-header against Inter was drawn. The cup quarter final – a key game in terms of some promises I’ve made in the squad – was not the same. We dominated and our quick build up play, down the left hand side, was too good for Inter. We progress and face Milan in the semi finals. The busiest month of the season, to date, finished with a win over Sassuolo.
My one concern, however, has to be this:
In the last six league games,we have created the following xG: 1.04, 2.27, 1.90, 2.68, 1.3 and 1.5 from the following number of shots: 10, 19, 20, 20, 14, 18. When collated, the numbers become somewhat more worrying: 10.69xG for 5 total goals at a conversion rate of just 4% across the 101 shots we’ve taken. The chances aren’t bad – an average shot xG of 0.10 is 0.01 ‘better’ than the average for the other games this season. Of the total 10.69xG – Marzio Zenga has been accountable for 3.69xG of it – 34.5% but has contributed one goal – 20%. In the other league games, Zenga has accrued 8.65xG and scored twelve goals from it. He ranks sixth in total minutes this season – playing 65% of the total minutes (Kean has 15% and Lucca has 16%) so I feel that a rest and some rotation must happen here to ensure we finish the league season off strong.
Roberto De Zerbi’s Roma are pushing us closer than I had imagined as he proves to be a really good manager. However, we still hold top spot and continue with a strong defence and a good enough attack to win games. The Milan clubs appear to both be in turmoil but Milan’s form is impressive at the moment under Pazienza. For now, Simeone’s job is comfortable but that 4-1 hiding against us in the cup probably won’t have helped him! Despite Sampdoria’s troubles, my loanee Giovanni Giovagnoli has done pretty well and is now considered a wonderkid. We’ve been drawn against Real Sociedad in the first knockout round of the Champions League
Forza La Dea!
This month was all about progression in Europe and we did just that! Despite winning the three league games and not conceding a goal, slightly altered teams and slightly different ideas were used to both protect my key players but also come up with plans that may work against any of the teams that now remain: Arsenal, Spurs, PSG, RB Leipzig, Real Madrid (our opponents), Aston Villa (yay!!!) or Liverpool. The plan was also to go to Spain and be tight and not be out of the tie at the halfway point: something we did really well. By the time Sociedad had got their act together, we’d scored three times through Santos, Jose Cristiano and Lanzo and were home and dry.
We also received the youth intake but I’m struggling to motivate myself to dig deeper into this as, sadly/not-sadly, our squad depth is just so good that these players are miles off first team football at this stage. I think this is where my real interest in teams outside the Big 5 leagues is borne out of. My thoughts about where this save goes in the summer are now are the forefront of my mind…
We’re still holding strong atop the league with a seven point lead with twenty-seven left to play for. We do travel to the Olimpico next month in a tie that could, probably, decide the league. That also sits directly after a really tough double-header against Real’s Galacticos. Tough!
Forza La Dea!
Insane. Breathless. Full-on.
The month started awfully, though, as Napoli inflicted our first taste of defeat, in any competition, since the Serie A playoff loss to Juventus in June last year. When, a matter of days later, we then lost – again – at the Bernabeu, I feared the worse. Our second string took Pescara apart nicely before we roared back at the Gewiss (Stade di Bergamo in European competitions!) and put Real Madrid to the sword, just as we’ve done with a whole manner of teams across the last year or so. Our visit to the Olimpico has probably confirmed that we will, indeed, win the scudetto and we were professional and just that little bit better throughout, despite De Zerbi’s side starting strongly. In my 200th game against Milan, we escaped with a draw as I conceded the largest amount of xGA this season, at least. With an eye on the bigger prize, a rotated squad drew with Sampdoria before a supremely resilient defensive showing saw us lead at the halfway point against Liverpool. Progress into the Coppa Italia final was secured in the last game of the most hectic month of my career, where we’ll face Napoli.
Roma have the easiest run in and I’d be lying if I wasn’t wanting them to come second, putting as much between us and rivals Juve as possible. As for us – we can afford to drop points and, with a Champions League campaign still going, I envisage that we will – probably against Milan and Juve. With no unbeaten season to play for, I do feel that I’ll rotate as necessary to try and finish this season with three trophies. As for what happens after this season – I do not know. This month has been somewhat draining for me and I haven’t entirely enjoyed it. But, as potentially treble winners, I don’t know where to go from here. I’d love some thoughts on it…
Forza La Dea!
Heartbreak on Merseyside as we throw away a two goal advantage and lose out on penalties to Jurgen Klopp’s side. It was truly an enthralling match – end of end with a host of hugely talented players pitting it out in one of the biggest games of their lives. Gvardiol scored from a corner early on – a rare form of concession for our tall and routined defence before Moukoko raced free to draw parity in the tie. Trent scored a Trent goal to leave me feeling utterly deflated before a lovely strike by Marzio Zenga – fully encapsulating his Haaland role of barely touching the ball prior to this – took us to extra time. Francesco Lanzo missed the key penalty and we feel short; so close to reaching the dream of the final.
I’ve recently added the ‘Play out of Defence’ instruction against teams that employ Gegenpressing and it worked beautifully here, as seen across three screenshots: start, midpoint and end, where we have actually forced a 4v4 situation with us on the counter attack. We didn’t score from it but it set the tone for a game where we simply countered better than Piacenza and our quality shone through. A midweek final saw utter heartbreak as we threw everything we had at a Napoli side ahead thanks to the luckiest deflected own goal I think I’ve ever seen. At one point, I had six forwards on, chasing the game. Sadly, we came up short and couldn’t add a Coppa Italia to our trophy cabinet but, as always, I’m proud of the side. However, it meant that just two days later, we faced Milan, knowing a win would see us lift the Scudetto for the first time ever. Sadly, everyone was absolutely exhausted and my second string could only limp to a draw. However, with Juventus still having to play three times, the title was still not sewn up.
I surely could not mess this one up…
I set ourselves up to enjoy the ninety minutes that stood between us, naming as many fit players as possible. We took the game to Palermo and were, quite frankly, never really in a contest. Zenga scored a lovely chip as we, again, played through their press before netting a panenka to put us two up and home and dry by half time. Some reshuffling and messing around in the second half saw us record 3.58xG, our highest of the season. The players, led by captain Caleb Okoli, lined up to receive the Serie A trophy at the end of the game and, after three years and 313 days of work, it finally felt good to achieve what I came here for!
With the title secured, we rounded off the season with an unjust loss at home to Juventus and a rout of Udinese. A tough month to end the season – defeat to eventual Champions League winners Liverpool and a final loss, meaning I still lack a domestic cup trophy with Atalanta, but there is so much to celebrate elsewhere. Our first ever top league first place, six players named in the Team of the Season, myself winning Manager of the Year, us winning Team of the Year and Marco Carnesecchi winning both ‘keeper of the Year and setting a new record with an outstanding 32 clean sheets.
Roberto De Zerbi’s Roma fall at the final hurdle and allow Juve to leapfrog them, with Napoli’s faith in Don Unai paying off as he secures them a fourth place finish. There is panic on the streets of Milan as both Inter and Milan dispose of their managers: Simeone and Pazienza, respectfully. Lecce record a disappointing league finish but qualify for the Europa League thanks to a Conference League win, beating Atletico Madrid in the final. Likewise, Hellas Verona dip from sixth to thirteenth and Sassuolo, now under Kingsley Coman, finish mid-table, as they have done since the year that I spent as their manager. At the other end, only Brescia remain as the newly promoted team but it is Sampdoria who can consider being unlucky – scoring 19 goals less than their xG but conceded 10 more than their xG suggests, ending 19th despite an xPts position of 12th. Lionel Scaloni is a decent manager but he was relegated last year with Getafe and also four years ago as manager of Salernitana: somewhat of a specialist.
I’ve dug a lot more into how we play this year and have shared a lot of thoughts about this as I play. Looking at where we sit across the league, combined with the overall dashboard that I’ve made in Excel, there are a few things to pick out. It all feels very Italian that we can win the league despite only being the fourth top scorers, building the entire team around an outstandingly solid defence. I’ve also been able to access previous season’s information by reloading saves I make at the end of the year and this is a great marker for how our game has changed as we’ve become bigger and better. We’ve increased the amount of possession we’ve had this season, and now sit in the top half for that metric. There hasn’t been a marked change towards this but I’m sure that the ‘Play out of Defence’ – key in allowing us to beat a high press, has probably increased that. However , we are the worst team in the league at converting our chances despite having one of the best strikers in the league: definitely an area to look into both tactically and from a player perspective. I know that this is largely because we’ve had more shots than ever before – facing teams sitting deeper and more resolutely, hence the change to pull players out of position, but we’re still not quite right with it. We’re defending less than ever before but remain pretty similar in most other areas, with a nice increase in crosses completed; the signing of Santos allowed me to get a better player on set pieces and from the byline. This is something that feels really powerful to me – tracking team stats over a long term and I’ll be looking to continue with it.
What I’ve also done is dug into the opposition to try and find strengths and weaknesses within the tactical style I’m developing: pushing to get deeper than the base ‘formations faced.’ This is what I’ve been able to get up to. Each area has a set of screenshots from Excel and some short discursive points. This is something that I intend to really develop as time goes on:
The Control Possession style is one that I often find the hardest to break down but we still create a good number of chances against teams that play this. Against gegenpressing teams, we’ve scored freely – particularly against those that play it in a 4-2-3-1, although Piacenza and Udinese are quite considerably weaker than us. What I do find really interesting though is that the Atalanta PPDA (the opposition OPPDA) is barely different for teams that play a high pressing style – meaning that either the stats are broken or we’ve effectively stopped them from being able to do what they want to do. I’ve grouped the two types of Tiki-Taka together as they are similar but, interestingly, two of the bigger teams in the league employ that style. An average score of 0.75 – 0.25 is pretty good from that, considering. Two of our four xG losses came against teams that employ the Wing Play style but neither really stand out as hugely important data for me to dig into.
The five at the back formations (Inter and Juve) are, again, very different from the other teams in the league but we definitely seem to favour facing the 4-2-3-1 shape, given that it, realistically, affords us the most time with players in those important central spaces and we are able to create overloads on single defender sides, given their attacking wingers. Whilst I say that, 60% of our bottom-5 lowest xG results come in games against teams that play this shape and, in Milan, Fiorentina, Udinese, Bologna and Roma – with all but Milan and Roma utilising that shape, I do feel that we could do more.
When we draw, we don’t tend to concede more xG than when we win – instead we just fail to create and convert the chances: we’ve never really had to hold on this season. Of the games we’ve drawn, 78% have seen an average shot xG of 0.10 or less, around 4% lower than in games we’ve won. That doesn’t feel too much but the eye test from the games I have re-watched tells me that these are games where we’ve probably gone too high risk and just encouraged shots at the first possible opportunity. Realistically, I shouldn’t be drawing against Sampdoria, Brescia, Pescare and Bologna, given their league rankings and quality and it’s likely that they’ve successfully just sat back and stopped us from getting through.
Despite only creating 0.06xG more, on average, per match, we’ve taken 0.8 less points per game against teams where we’ve not converted our chances. Sounds pretty simple – we don’t convert and we don’t win. Yes. But it’s not like we’re having loads more shots: about 1.5 different per game. Defensively, we’re very similar, so I couldn’t even say that we’re chasing these games and taking risky shots – probably the opposite: risky and poor quality shots are coming because we cannot break a team down in a game we’re dominating. Interestingly, the data shows that we create more and concede less xG when we press more – scoring at 2.58 points per game when allowing the opposition less than five passes between every defensive action, compared to 1.83 when allowing more. As a slight skew – both games that we lost came when our OPPDA was above 6.00 and that list comprises of ties against Juve, Inter and Milan: three of the bigger teams. This year, our OPPDA has decreased (less passes per action) compared to last year and I feel that part of that is the advanced wingers but also setting specific pressing traps as best as I can within the game framework. It’d certainly be interesting to see how much further this could go within my tactical style.
Next, I want to see how that correlates with individuals. I haven’t included any keeper stats here as Carnesecchi has played all of the time and there is nothing comparative.
We do so little defending that it’s not hugely interesting to dig into these stats. What is interesting though is that Okoli’s header percentage is badly skewed by his attacking work as the target of my corners. This is definitely something that I do need to consider myself, when recruiting, because he’s certainly – defensively at least – better in the air than Fusari but this is not evident here and almost comes across as a weakness. This defensive team is incredibly solid and I see no real reason why it shouldn’t be split up in the years to come with Okoli being the first one to need replacing, but that is due to his age.
The main job of the midfield is to be able to receive the ball and progress it quickly. To have some of the best in the business on this continent in Ragatzu – passing, Cristiano – passing and dribbles and Navarro – passing, is fantastic. Pilenga has slowly been usurped across the season given to the fact that he’s a liability in the air. I think that this area could be the most needed for a rebuild with Mac Allister not lasting forever and Ciammaglichella barely earning enough football, despite playing relatively well when he does get on the pitch.
The wingers have done well this season and the experiment with Memaj has been a particular highlight: coming off the bench to get the ball and drive forward against tired defences. He’s recorded the most dribbles/90 in the team and also has accrued a decent NPxG/90, too. Lanzo’s minutes have decreased due to this and that is partially my fault as I have, potentially, an amazing second striker/Trequartista in him but have not quite used him to the best of his ability – as he’s recorded the lowest goals/90 of the entire winger setup. Santos has been fantastic and leads the group on progressive actions, netting a strong number of assists/90, although some have been from set pieces.
I think that the Lucca experiment worked this season as he recorded the highest shots on target of any of the strikers and, maybe, in my talks of conversion rates, could have used him more – despite having the lowest conversion rate of my strikers. In fact, all three of them have converted way more often than any of the midfielders, excluding Costa, who occasionally deputised as a striker. Whilst I have almost exclusively played an AF(a) in this role, there must be a conversation about how my strikers have barely contributed to anything else within the team, assisting, roughly, once every eight to nine games. Moise Kean, understandably, has decided to move on at the end of this season, given the low amount of playing time he’s had.
I knew this season had to be as perfect as it could be. Judging by what I’ve written above, you can see how much I’ve put into making it perfect and, being honest, it’s taken a lot out of me. I have completely fallen in love with Atalanta but can, categorically confirm, that I won’t be around to see them move into their new stadium in 2035 and, as for the short-term future: I do not know. With that being said. I’m contracted to Atalanta and will give them my all until that us other.
Forza La Dea!
I think that this is the right thing for me to do. What I’ve created at Atalanta is way more than I ever considered: both in terms of in-game and in terms of me playing the game. I’ve absolutely loved every minute of the four years that I’ve been in Bergamo and – quite frankly – I’ve abandoned the ‘Age of Empires’ idea to further force the narrative of a manager (and a human player) who is absolutely obsessed with trying to be the best possible manager. With that, comes a price. I feel that there are shades of Marcelo Bielsa here, who quite regularly has popped up in jobs and then left when he needed the headspace. The squad that I’d assembled ready for next season is probably the most complete squad I’ve ever built and – whilst certainly the best in Serie A – among the best in Europe, too. Across my two hundred and ten games, I won one hundred and thirty-eight of them and lost only twenty-five, winning the league and Europa League. I trimmed the wage bill, brought through academy players and delivered the first ever Scudetto to Bergamo.
Pleasingly, Atalanta moved fast and very outside of the box. Enzo Villalba brought some great success to Talleres in Argentina and, clearly, they felt like continuing their association with the nation of my manager’s birth. The hardest part, for me, is to watch a squad that I have assembled be taken apart, piece by piece by a new manager but I am pretty much in agreement with his dealings, particularly who he has sold:
- Filippo Fontana – €4.5m to Sassuolo
- Moise Kean – Free to West Brom
- Cristian Pilenga – €63m to RB Leipzig
- Niccolo Ferrigno – €15.5m to Wolfsburg
- Kastriot Memaj – €17m to Stuttgart
- Aaron Ciammaglichella – €11.75m to Porto
- Jose Carlos Uria – €30.5m to Dortmund
- Lorenzo Lucca – €5.25m to Genoa
- Andrea De Zerbi – Loan to Milan
Some very clever moves there and with Pilenga, Ciammaglichella and Kean moving on – he’s done three things that I would contemplate doing myself. Personally, I wouldn’t have sold Ferrigno without bringing in another centre back – especially loaning out Andrea De Zerbi, too – but the moves to sell Uria, a youth candidate with no first team appearances, looks great on paper. In €67m striker Jose Silva, he’s got a truly elite backup striker for Zenga, something which I’d never had the guts to actually do. The €57m deal for Karim Adeyemi does not really fit the age profile that I’d have brought but he does fill a gap on the right wing – creating an elite three with Santos on the left. A loan with a mandatory €5m fee for Christian Gonzalez looks to be great business, too as does Marcelo Gallardo, who was actually on my own shortlist.
Their league campaign has started incredibly well and I anticipate it to continue that way. I’ll keep a very close eye on what Enzo does against a host of new faces in Serie A: Simone Inzaghi back at Inter for a second spell, Vincente Moreno came into AC Milan from Sociedad and Juve appointed Milan failure Michele Pazienza after losing Antonio Conte in (hilarious) fashion back to Spurs. Looking at the league stats, Atalanta have now added possession to their game and become the strongest and most clinical finishers in the league.
I’m stopping the game updates at this point because of this: