seasonOne.episodeEight | Ritorno
If I am being honest with you. I don’t know how we got here. Spoiler alert, but as it stands, we are top of the league with a game to play. But as I said, I don’t know how we got here.
They say football is a results business, but what do they actually mean? And who are they come to think of it? As managers, we are judged on the results of player recruitment and performance, overall team performances, results on the pitch, league positions, cup runs, financial prudence, fan happiness, board happiness. It is no wonder why so many lose their jobs.
When we left off, I had already gone through one meeting with the players over their unhappiness at our performances (despite overperforming), but results picked up and we were three points clear at the top of Serie B, having played our first round robin of games. While our form wasn’t particularly spectacular, we had dug in and I could see the team learning my philosophy and applying it on the pitch. The year ended with a run of dreadful results
Fast forward 5 games.
We had downed tools and decided that we no longer knew how to play football. Our passing was poor, our finishing worse, and we were conceding silly goals that were costing us games. Despite the results somewhat suggesting otherwise, we were disjointed. I kept tinkering. I should have used the winter break as a test for a new system, but I decided to see how it went when we returned. Initial signs were good, but we just never clicked and we were losing silly points. If we carried on like this, there was a real danger of us missing out on promotion altogether.
I decided to drop my two central midfielders back into the defensive midfield. This double pivot would give me more defensive stability, but also continue to give us the offensive support I needed, since two central midfielders on defend (I was using a CM-De with a DLP-De) actually have a lower attacking mentality than two defensive midfielders on support. So, we now had the support in attack with greater defensive stability. It was marvellous.
Switching my two central midfielders to supporting defensive midfielders, one as a Deep Lying Playmaker and the other a Segundo Volante, was the turning point. The final 4 games should be a formality in the push for promotion.
It wasn’t. Despite leading Spezia for the first 75 minutes of the game, on the 80th minute, we were 3-1 down. Despite Baraye pulling one back, we lost. Pescara won 2 of the remaining 3 games and drew the other. We managed to win the remaining two. Which set things up nicely the final game of the season.
I couldn’t have written this script any better if I had saved and reloaded one hundred times. We had a 3 point lead, and a quick read of the Serie B rulebook confirms my fears: league positions are sorted by results against each other before goal difference. We just had to avoid defeat.
We had both had our promotions confirmed, but that didn’t seem to matter.
THE BUILD UP TO PESCARA
Because it’s a big game and I want to win the league, I review the opposition in detail; using the reports from my analysts and my own review of the tapes from their previous three games. I would usually watch a match against us, but their 2-0 victory was the result of poor marking at a corner and a stupid push in the box resulting in a penalty.
My analysts have told me to look out for low crosses into the box. This is a common route to goal for Pescara. Given their inability in the air, it is easy to see why. I think we need to sit deep and stay compact and not give them any space to get in behind our defence. Our defenders will be told to keep the shape and not rush out to close down the man on the ball, as this will pull us out of shape and allow Pescara to get in behind us.
Looking at a couple of goals from their recent matches they all follow the same trend. In this scenario their defensive midfielder plays a ball into the penalty area from deep and at this point, Perugia are facing their goal, which is something you don’t want to be doing when trying to clear crosses. It leads to a simple low cross across the face of the goal for a simple tap-in for the onrushing attackers.
For those crosses that do make it into the box, I need my defenders to be facing play and keeping their body between the attackers and the goal. I will need my full-backs to tuck in and my wide midfielders to track back and make it hard for their wingers to get crosses into the box. I will tell the full-backs to rarely close down, this should keep them in line with the central defenders more and stop them being pulled away from their primary defensive position.
The profile of Zdenek Zeman, the Pescara coach, shows that he likes to play a direct and attacking style of football. Defensively, they like to press over the pitch. Simple then. We need to ensure that when we have the ball it is not in dangerous areas. I will go against my usual style of passing out from the back, and rather look to play long balls up to the forwards (this also ties in with us being better in the air). To circumvent their direct attacking play, we will sit much deeper to prevent any long balls over the top of our defence for their attackers to run onto.
They will come out in a 4-3-3 and will likely field a Target Man up front, with a Winger on the right and an Inside Forward on the left. We will assume that the Inside Forward will be charged with providing low balls into the box from narrow positions, with the Winger getting quick crosses in from deep. To combat this I will deploy a Ball Winning Midfielder on my right (to counter their inside forward) and move my Segundo Volante on the left who will be a bit more tactically disciplined.
Pescara do not play out from the back from what I have seen. Even when recycling possession they play it long from the Goalkeeper. For this reason, I will remove the opposition instructions to close down any defenders, but I will put my striker on their defensive midfielder to man mark and close down tightly.
Our opposition instructions now look like this.
On the attack, I think it’s pretty clear what we have to do. Pump balls into the box, float our crosses from wide and get support up there for any second balls. However, these will only come from my full-backs. Our inside forwards will still be asked to do their thing.
Our team instructions and system for the game look like this.
With the exception of Guiseppi Rossi, I had a full strength team available to me.
It wasn’t the best start. Within 15 minutes we were a goal down. It wasn’t a cross that undid us, it was some intricate passing and despite a wall of 5 defenders along the 6-yard line, Coulibaly managed to evade everyone and put the ball through the goalkeeper.
Just 5 minutes later it was 1-1 thanks to a floated cross from a free kick that was knocked down to Scozzarella to slot home. From here we continued to push on in search of a second goal which would mean Pescara would need 2 to secure the title. This would put more emphasis on them pushing numbers forward which would allow us to counter at pace and kill the game off.
Nothing ever goes to plan though. With 36 minutes on the clock, my Central Defender pushes an opponent over in the box and just like the previous time we played, we gave another soft penalty away for a push. Báez, however, hit the post. We immediately countered and very nearly scored.
We made it to halftime at 1-1 and the match stats showed Pescara attempting 40 crosses. They completed just 4 of them, we intercepted almost 30 of their crosses with the remainder going out of play. We, however, had attempted just 2 despite having a clear areal advantage.
On the hour mark, I got our Inside Forwards to swap wings, instructed them to cross low and hard to the near post and asked Ceravolo (striker) to play as a Poacher. Pescara had shifted their mentality to chase the game and there were clear spaces behind the defence to exploit.
I was so concentrated on killing the game off, that I neglected to reorganise defensively to take into account their additional strength in numbers going forwards and on 73 minutes they hit us with a sucker punch. We conceded the ball exactly where I didn’t want to, right in the middle of the pitch, they nipped in and countered at pace to put the game 2-1 in their favour with just 15 minutes to go. Disaster.
With a few minutes to go a beautiful ball through to Ceravolo put the striker 1v1 with the keeper, and rather than running in and shooting he took the shot from range. Missing. Our final chance?
With 5 minutes to go, we pushed forward in search of an equaliser, Pescara won the ball back off Insigne, who went down injured under the challenge and clearly needed attention. Rather than sportingly putting the ball out so he could receive attention, Pescara decided to play on with us a man down and went ahead and scored. That was three. A few minutes later, dejected, I pushed to overload…
When the fourth goal went in I just wanted the ground to swallow me. We had thrown away the league title on the final day of the season. We had done our research and set up the team so that we could protect against Pescara strengths and exploit their weaknesses. The two late goals tell a completely different story to the actual game. I am absolutely gutted. We were predicted to finish midtable, we never dropped lower than 7th and held the top stop all season. Our results against the lower teams were just not good enough.
At the end of season team meeting, it was hard to hide my true feelings. I was still angry at our failure to secure the title, but we had exceeded all expectations in getting promoted. I told the boys that I expected us to stay up next year (I didn’t), and that they deserve the chance to stay and do just that. I’m not sure that they do.
24 HOURS LATER…
It has been just over 24 [real] hours since we lost the league title on the last day of the season. I’ve had a chance to reflect on our achievements and accept the blame for how things unfolded. However, if I am to accept blame for losing the title, then I must also accept praise for getting Parma back into Serie A, and that is what I will be focussing on going forward.
On a personal front, I did win the managers’ manager or the year and Italian Serie B manager of the year. Despite finishing second.
I sometimes forget that Parma played their 2015/16 season in Serie D, so to have achieved back-to-back promotions three years running is unthinkable. In the end, though, it was our end of season form that cost us a league title. We had to cope with a lot of injuries (at one point all strikers were injured), some tactical errors, but on the whole, we can be pleased.
The final league position is something I would have taken if offered to me ahead of the season starting. Also, kudos to bari, for finishing 8th and still getting promoted. You have to love the playoff rules of Italy.
We will collect €2.5m for our final position in Serie B. As of 30 June 2018 we have just over €4m in the bank. Miraculously, we remained in the black all season. This financial prudence is something I want to instil at Parma. I want us to be prudent in our spending, ensuring player purchases and wages stay under control. The money isn’t too great in Serie A, either: we will need to finish 10th is we want to collect the same prize money as we have this year. However, I was shocked to see that €29.31m will be coming in for TV rights.
If you’re into your player stats, then below are the highlights for the season.
When I look at the stats I wonder if we might have done better had Rossi stayed fit for longer. I knew it was a gamble taking him on with this history of injuries, but when he was fit he gave os a 0.71 g/90 (goals per 90 minutes of play) which is excellent. He was also our top scorer with 9 goals.
Dezi was asked to play all over the pitch, and even played as a striker when we were left with none due to injury. I will be trying to get him back on loan. His 8 goals and 7 assists were a valuable contribution.
Well, without going into too much detail now (there will be a new post for that), we need to strengthen. We have 5 key players in on loan, and we might try to get them back for another term, but failing that we will need to replace them. More than likely with new loans.
We need to monitor the wage situation with most of the squad coming to me for new contracts. I’ve asked my Director of Football to offer some of the guys new deals. Those who don’t deserve one will probably end up on the transfer list. But as I’m finding, it’s not too easy getting people out the door.
I will also be working on a new system to play in Serie A. We need something a lot more stable defensively, and one which can counter better as I fear we will be the underdogs for every game we play next season.
Until next time, arrivederci.