seasonOne.episodeSeven | Andata
When pre-season finished, I was optimistic about the season ahead.
It was Tuesday 10 October when Player Liason Officer, Giacomo Pala came to my office to inform me that the squad are not happy with my management. They wanted to talk to me about it, too. It was a surprise, to say the least, especially since we had won 5 of the last 8 games, and sat in 4th place in the league.
Apparently, there was a bad atmosphere in the dressing room. My problem? How? I’ve guided you to a European position, albeit after 8 games, but what could they possibly have the hump about?
We started the season with a bang, with our best performance being in the 5-2 dismantling of Bari, who we were expected to lose against. The 4-2-3-1 defensive system was working wonders. We had the most possession, passes and accurate passes of all the teams in the division, not to mention most shots on target.
Then I lost all three strikers to injury. We went on to lose 2 of the next 3 games. This is when the revolt began. To give you an idea of how things were looking, these were our results up to this point.
Sure, Pro Vercelli were routed at the bottom of the league, but I didn’t have any strikers and the players decided they didn’t fancy turning up. I never expected their collective moral to drop from good to very poor after just one result. The Dynamics of the team was looking dreadful. Our match cohesion was very poor, the dressing room atmosphere was very poor, and despite good managerial support, the players weren’t happy with me.
At the meeting I told them to get on with their football, results would come(?) and the good times will roll. I was making this up, of course, as we were already overperforming in the league. Most of the players agreed with me.
Nevertheless, we had the visit of Foggia at home next, who themselves were struggling. Did I risk playing the same players and system and just hope we could come through with a win so I could mollycoddle the guys to make them feel good? Of course, I do. Nothing had changed but their attitudes.
So I sent them out on to the pitch, crossed my fingers behind my back and passionately told them that I had faith in them…
With 10 minutes left we had managed just two shots to their 11. We were dominant on the ball, as always, but too scared in the attack. We had Guiseppi Rossi on the bench. He hadn’t kicked a ball all season having only just come through his injury. It was too early for him to come back but I was desperate. “Rossi, you’re up!” I shouted. I told the guys to be more patient in their approach and work for their openings, rather than forcing it (Work Ball Into Box in old money).
Two minutes later, Rossi tapped in what should have been the winning goal. I was halfway down the touchline, preparing my victory speech for the dressing room when I heard the away fans go mental. Foggia equalised with the last kick of the game.
I felt dejected. It was now 1 win in 4 with the games coming thick and fast and no escape route. To make matters worse our next two games were against Perugia and then Palermo. I won’t lie, I did take a quick look at the notice board to see if there were any other jobs going. Little did I know, that Foggia result was going to be the catalyst for getting out season back on track.
I trusted in my system. So I didn’t want to make sweeping changes, but it was evident that against the weaker sides, there’s no need to set up defensively against them. I needed a system that would still maintain dominance of the ball but had more penetration about it against the deeper, more risk-averse sides.
I had noticed that we lacked a focal point of attack. When asking Insigne to play as an Advanced Playmaker, he wasn’t as effective. He would be too advanced when the team had the ball and wasn’t interacting as well with our Deep Lying Forward, who himself seemed too static at times. I decided to ask Insigne to play as an Enganche. I wanted him to be the focal point around which all players would focus. I wanted him to be interacting better with the wide attacking midfielders and the striker.
A classic before and after. The average positions show just how close to the striker the Insigne is when playing as an Advanced Playmaker. There is a lot of space in the central areas that he should be in. Asking him to play as an Enganche created a lot more space between the lines and gave us better shape. We had a focal point, we had a player in space to orchestrate the attack. Against more defensive teams we would play with more of a Standard or Control mentality to increase the risks we are willing to take in these games.
The results followed. If only andata ended here.
That was until a gruelling evening away to Atlanta. The First Round of the Italian Cup. To say we were underdogs would be an understatement. I even had Gian Piero Gasperini joking that it’d be an easy game. However, despite 20 shots to their 9 and 66% of the possession, we went down 2-0 in a match which would be the catalyst for us ending Andata in dreadful form.
How had we gone from 7 wins in 9 to then losing 4 of the next 6 games? Making mistake after mistake, missing chance after chance and conceding goals that did enough to keep me up at night.
So, overall, I have to be happy. Despite the collapse at the end of the year, it’s now the winter break. We don’t have a game for 21 days and before then we also have the start of the transfer window. It’s time to regroup again and get the lads together as not to throw away the excellent start to the season that we’ve had.
I am looking forward to what the Italians call the ritorno, which is basically just the second half of the season. We have the same fixtures again in the same order as they have been. We have gone from 10 points clear at the top to just 3 points clear and we could very soon find ourselves out of the automatic promotion places.
The whole club will have to pull together to break out of this poor run.