About defending Balotelli, I was defending what he was able to achieve with the correct support and showed that he did care about what was going on in the match. Other players simply showed no will or desire to win. I’m not going to defend Balotelli’s attitude, both with diving (although he did have some calls go against him too) and his attitude to teammates, even if I can understand his frustration. I’ve said in my last post that he’s seen as a leader and in that regard, I wasn’t at all pleased with him (I just have bigger gripes with the game at this point).
Agree completely about Nocerino and Montolivo. Montolivo especially disappointed me as he’s now captain and needs to show it.
As for Abbiati, I had thought he could have come out, though I never checked twice. He made enough other mistakes that it seemed pointless bothering to go back to check.
About SES and Niang, I can’t think of a single moment either were influencial in our side. Yes they were deep, but even in the early stages they were anonymous and took up bad positions.
Which is what I want to move onto, our tactical discipline and shape…
Below is a screenshot in the early part of the game, where Zapata has the ball and will pass it through to Poli who cuts it central to Balotelli for a shot. We can see Zapata, in Verona’s half, has the ball. Every player except Mexes (who stayed slightly further back as a spare man) is in shot, meaning the team is tight and within about 30 yards apart from back to front. Unsurprisingly, during these stages we pressed Verona well and it’s clear to see some fairly neat triangles through the side, providing a sound structure to the shape of the side.
Now, here’s another screenshot for the goal. Again, every player (bar the centre backs who are a little further back as spare men with the players within about 20-25 yards max from back to front. A good tight unit, Balotelli has dropped back and to the left, with El Shaarawy correctly filling the gap and Poli is running through into the space in the box. The other players in the shot are all again forming triangles, making for a solid structure. Niang is the one player in the shot whose position I think is wrong, as he’s taken up the same position as El Shaarawy when he should be further out in case the ball comes to the back post.
After that is where everything went wrong and our players lost shape and focus. The image below is at 1-1 when Verona were able to hit us on the break. We can see huge gaps between the fullbacks and the midfield (I’ve highlighted these). Niang was slow getting back here while Poli is completely out of position. Montolivo in this scenario should have come across to reduce the gap with others taking up the space left as we shift positions. The defence is also horrible as it’s completely flat. Abate should be a little higher (at least with the man), as well as Constant, to press early to give a curved line at the back. With Balotelli and SES both out of shot, even if we assume they’re at the halfway line (which I highly doubt), the team is about 40 yards from back to front, meaning it’s stretched and there will be gaps to exploit.
The shot below is Verona’s second goal, where they hit us on the break. Montolivo, as Verona started the break, was already on the right wing to begin with, with Poli, Nocerino, Abate and the rest all caught up front. In this scenario, we’re outnumbered, the defence is completely exposed and the attackers were in the opposition box, meaning we were stretched across 3/4 of the pitch. I would highlight how Verona can hurt us, but there’s no point, it’s clear to see. When you compare this to our shape before the Poli goal (i.e. the first 2 screenshots I took), it’s shocking how badly we lost our shape. Another more shocking thing is I counted roughly 10 seconds from this moment screenshot was taken to the moment Toni scored. Verona during this time managed 4 passes with their attacking players before our players (Nocerino, SES and Poli) started to come into shot. What took these guys so long to get back and help cover, as I took the screenshot about 2/3 into the counter? I won’t take anymore screenshots of our defensive shape after this goal as it was the same occurance multiple times.
The one screenshot I couldn’t get was our attack after Verona got into the game. This is obviously because highlights won’t show these moments as they’re not highlights. However, on numerous occassions I saw Montolivo on the ball with the other players in front on the same line as Balotelli all in a straight/flat line. Quite frankly it was comical, as not only were they completely flat and easily marked, no one moved to give any options.
I put these screenshots here because I want to highlight how different we were in the early stages to later on. I’m still really irritated by this performance, as I simply can’t accept that the players would switch off as they did.