The last 15 months have been no less than an adventure for Hellas Verona. After two years in the Serie B wilderness, Hellas Verona returned to the top-flight of Italian football for the start of the 2019/20 campaign. Verona finished fifth in the Serie B in the 2018/19 season. They subsequently went through play-offs to achieve promotion following a dramatic 3-2 comeback win in the play-off finals. Verona have gone to-and-fro between the first and the second divisions and have been inconsistent in staying up in the league recently. This was their third promotion in the last seven years. With such fragility, not many were expecting them to survive this season, but they surprised everyone.
It is an enormous achievement for them to not only stay in the Serie A but also finish in the top half of the table. In this data analysis, we will go through how they managed to achieve this. Statistics show that the teams coming from Serie B have recently found it difficult in the top division with last nine out of 15 clubs getting relegated in their first season back. Verona has defied the odds to become only the second (funnily the other one was also them in 15/16) newly-promoted club in last ten seasons to finish in the top half of Serie A. They achievement is similar to that of Sheffield United in the Premier League.
Hellas Verona finished 9th in the standings in the 2019/20 season of Serie A. Verona’s top half finish becomes even more special when we look at the performance of the past teams. 14 teams in the past decade have straight away gone back down to the second division. Another five have narrowly escaped demotion at 17th. Only five have managed to finish 12th or higher. They two other sides, Brescia and Leece, who were promoted along with them with season finished 18th and 19th respectively and faced relegation.
How did Verona do it?
Verona played 38 matches and won 12, drew 13 and lost only 13. For a team who at the start of the season was tipped to go back down, every point has got a greater value. With the league-highest draws, Verona did well by not losing matches. In other words, they were good at grinding results. In fact, they were able to take points against 17 of 19 teams. Only Napoli and Roma were able to do a double against the newly-promoted side. Verona won versus the league champions, Juventus and managed to slog out a draw versus the rest of the top four sides. This ability to get points even in difficult and important matches separates them from their competitors.
Interestingly, Fiorentina and Parma who finished 10th and 11th respectively in the league also finished on 49 points. Even though they had a better goal difference than Verona, due to Serie A’s head-to-head rule, they finished below them. Verona won both their matches against Parma and managed a draw and a win against Fiorentina. In simpler words, Verona won the more “important” matches.
Prior to the Coronavirus postponement of football, Hellas Verona were enjoying a fruitful return to Serie A. 8th in the league. Four points off European football and with a game in hand, Verona were the underdogs that had taken nearly everyone in Italy by surprise. It was after the lockdown that they struggled a bit and managed to win only three of the last 14 games. During the first phase of the season, their defence performed well and kept nine clean sheets. Following the return of football, their back-line fell apart and was able to keep only one clean sheet during the end stages. Lockdown broke their flow of play and they suffered during the latter stages.
Verona’s style of play
Verona sets-up in a three-back with Koray Günter, Amir Rrahmani, and the highly-rated youngster Marash Kumbulla usually leading the defensive line. While defending, the wide midfielders Darko Lazovic and Marco Faraoni would drop back to form a back-five. They attacked using their widths as 42% of the play goes through the left and 35% through the right. Lazovic(278) and Faraoni(266) fourth and fifth respectively in progressive passes made in the Serie A. Lazovic ranks third in passes made into the penalty area, only behind Luis Alberto of Lazio and Papu Gomez of Atalanta.
Data shows that Verona is not particularly an attacking side and found it difficult to score this season. They could only score 45 past their opponents, league’s fifth-worst tally. The striker, Samuel Di Carmine was the club’s top scorer with only eight league goals who played only 1300 minutes. They averaged only 1.18 goals per match with the expected goals per 90 of 1.29. Their performances up the pitch have been underwhelming and average only 18.24 shot-creating actions per 90, which is league’s fifth-worst. Along with this, their goal-scoring actions are disappointing with only 1.95 per 90. On comparison with Fiorentina, who finished with the same points average 23.5 shot-creating actions per 90 and 2.16 goal scoring actions per 90. Even though they weren’t the best attacking wise, it was their defence that carried them over. They are weak in converting their chances and average 0.08 goals/shot
The noticeable reason for their success is the will and desire to defend like it is their last day on the Earth. The never say die attitude is how they go about their business and their main purpose is to just not concede a goal. Newly-appointed manager Ivan Juric has trained his team to defend the way they would for their lives.
In eight of their 12 wins, they conceded fewer goals than they were expected to. Throughout the season, they managed to concede less than they were expected to. Their solid defence has been one of the biggest reasons for their successful finish. The team’s strengths are winning aerials duels, getting rid of the ball in their defensive third and stealing the ball back from the opposition. They had the second-most clearances in the league with 1033. Along with this, they had the league’s third-best successful pressure rate of 29.4%.
Verona won 19.05 aerials dual per game, the most in the league. Rrahmani with 122 won the most aerial duels among the defenders in the top division. With 92.73 recoveries per 90, i.e. second-best in the league., they are the experts in stealing the ball back.
Hellas Verona were impressive and were the surprise underdogs for the season. Maybe if it wasn’t for the lockdown and the sudden dip in form it brought, they might have continued their heroic run and finished even better than 9th. During the above analysis, we discovered that Verona’s defensive approach and abilities helped them achieve a top-half finish. Though they did finish 10th in 2015/16 and were relegated in the subsequent season after failing to win a match until February. Hoping they have learned from their past mistakes and will continue to build onto this momentum next season.