In part two of this tactical analysis of Filippo Inzaghi’s tactical game model and philosophy during his time at Benevento, we will explore the other side of the ball, his tactics and how they have maintained such a watertight defensive line through the season and how much this has contributed to their overall dominance leading into the lockdown.
15 goals conceded in 28 games. A defensive record to be proud of! Teams average 0.53 goals per game against Benevento from just three chances given up per game.
While this is an amazing stat in itself and it won’t be long before the club are back competing against Juventus and Inter Milan, what makes it even more remarkable is that as a collective, Benevento is nowhere near league leaders in statistical categories you would expect to find them leading given their current position and record. This analysis will provide the detail as to why this record has been possible
Three chances per game doesn’t mean they don’t give up shots on their goal but one of the few stats they find themselves in the top three for is least shots conceded in 90 minutes. The figure of 9.64 is a little higher than expected for a team conceding so few goals but the average shot distance is 21 yards from goal and carries an xG average of just 0.08. These a pretty frightening stats but a small window into why they concede so few goals.
This stat becomes even more remarkable when you pair it with the next piece of statistical information.
Benevento make only nine recoveries on average each game in the opponent’s third of the pitch. It isn’t the lowest in the league but it sits comfortably in the bottom half of the league. For context around this stat, Juve Stabia in 13th place and 30 points adrift of Benevento make only seven recoveries on average in the opponent’s third and sit last on the table for shots conceded at 13.64 per game. Their 43 goals conceded is almost three times the amount of Benevento. Decide what you will about this type of information but this will form the key areas of this tactical analysis of Benevento without the ball.
A team conceding that amount of shots and from that range would have to either press high to recover the ball far from their goal and limit chances of entering their third of the pitch or sit with a deep enough line to soak up pressure to play on the counter and or methodically build towards the opponent’s goal.
The answer to their defensive tactical philosophy is linked to the fact that Benevento also lead the league in limiting the number of lost balls in their build third and the middle third. This links nicely to part one of this tactical analysis on their ball possession. Get the ball forward into the opponent half quickly and get numbers into the box also means from a defensive point of view that they concede fewer counter-attacks and spend less time counter-pressing and more time recovering into a compact shape.
Benevento are adrift at bottom of the league for passes per defensive action (PPDA). They give up 10.45 passes per defensive action which is well below the league average of 8.9. They are also slightly below the league average for match interceptions and sit once again in the bottom half.
This image shows the areas of the pitch where Benevento most recover the ball. Below average in the opponent half and the middle of the pitch and a huge weight towards their own third.
The real question is, how can you give up on one-third of the pitch and still limit the number of shots and goals you concede across a large number of games across a season?
Next, Benevento find themselves in the bottom four league-wide for shots blocked, remember they concede on average 11 per game. Of these shots, they only block 22%, meaning 78% reach their intended target. This is also underperforming against their blocked xG stats which means they should block more than they actually do.
Lastly, in the six defensive statistical categories for the league report to date, only one Benevento player features in any of the top ten tables. Striker, Massimo Coda sits in eighth place in aerial duels contested. That’s it, no players in shots blocked, challenges, recoveries, interceptions, shots blocked, and successful tackles.
All this information leads this tactical analysis to ask the questions, how and what?
How can Benevento be so far ahead of the pack based on their defensive foundation when they are just an average defending team statistically?
What have they been so good at defensively that gets them to where they are now?
Benevento, much like Inzaghi’s spells at Milan and Bologna use a typical 4-4-2 shape. Inzaghi has changed sometimes into a 4-3-3 shape but that is more about the ease to flick into a 4-5-1 to deal with some 3-5-2 systems more than anything else.
How they press high
In short, they don’t. They limit teams build-up play from set positions like goal kicks but they are happy to concede territory in this part of the pitch in favour of staying together as a group and protecting central areas.
In this image we see Benevento trying to stop a build-up from a goal kick. It is done by just the front two with the wide midfielders joining in from more narrow positions at times. Notice the distance between the units here though. No Benevento midfielders can be seen here meaning this strategy is used to test the opponent’s commitment to the build-up.
This image is the outcome of the previous one. The opponent has chosen to build from the goal kick and now Benevento enters into a more normal defensive shape. Again, notice how narrow they are in these moments. The danger to their 4-4-2 block will be that at times they get spread across the pitch with the opponent progressing through the block quickly, especially against a midfield diamond or any variation with three players in the midfield line.
Therefore there is an obvious trend that the two wide midfielders take up narrow positions to help protect the central areas and force the ball outside. Once the ball travels to the full-back, the ball side wide midfielder will move outside to provide pressure and limit forward play.
This example is against a midfield diamond. Again, see the two wide midfield players in the second line move narrower. This protects progression into the opponent #6 and also protects passing lanes into the next opponent midfield line while also being close enough to press the full-back if the ball travels there.
In short, these two players can cover up to five players in the first three lines of the opponent build-up, and together with the front two dealing the centre-backs and goalkeeper, it creates much more numbers for Benevento to deal with the longer, more direct play, as seen in this image.
How they are compact
If teams create moments of good possession, the process from above is repeated in a lower block with an even bigger emphasis on staying compact between the lines and across the pitch.
Here, the wide midfielder is out of the midfield line engaging with the ball carrier. Underneath him, you can see the narrowness of the midfield line with the weak side midfielder coming across to the centre of the pitch to protect the inside shoulder of the two central midfield players who have come across to protect the ball side.
This is common for Benevento to send the ball-side wide player out to support from a recovering front line while the other three come across to support underneath. It means that they are well protected on the ball side from progressing the ball but could cause them a problem on the weak side. We will look at both of those scenarios now.
In this image, Chievo have broken the midfield line on the ball side. While the lines are compact, the ball finds the frontman who is tracked off the front by the centre-back. He can do this because of the distance between the lines depth-wise and this decision limits time and space to turn and play forwards.
Having six players in this section of the pitch allows a more zonal defensive system to take the lead while the players react to balls played into their zone. As we can see, it makes it nearly impossible for the opponent to progress the ball in these moments and creates plenty of opportunities for Benevento to recover the ball themselves.
Here, Chievo has managed to shift the ball to the opposite side of the pitch which could cause Benevento some issues with a possible overload against the full-back as the Benevento wide midfielder coming inside would mean he could be played beyond quickly.
When this happens, rather than engaging the ball with their full-back, Benevento drop deeper and delay. This gives time for the wide midfielder and even the striker on that side to get across and deal with the ball. As the image shows, now we have all of the team defending together in three lines. Still, the focus on defending on the ball side is the key here and limiting the ball going forwards. The position of the two central midfield players in relation to the ball here is vital to protect the ball into the feet of the opponent front two. This structure allows them to limit creativity but also deal with longer passes with ease with now little space in behind but also numbers around the ball to pick up any clearance or loose ball from a contested challenge.
Once the opponent has been worn down with this defensive block there has been evidence of a change in strategy, especially with teams chasing games. For some opposition, this strategy may have been Plan A in the first place. If you drop off to a medium and low block, you open yourself up to having to deal with direct play with many moments where you do not apply pressure to the ball. Therefore how Benevento deals with these moments has had a big impact on their success.
This gives an overview of these moments. Direct play into their medium block. Notice the height of the line. The position of the near side full-back gives an insight into where the backline started before the ball travels. One central midfielder is tasked with the first contact with a Benevento net all the way around him to recover the next ball. Four players underneath and three higher than the ball allow Benevento the best opportunity to win the second contact regardless of whether they win the first one. Another insight as to why they win so many balls in the mid-third or in their own third.
How they defend the goal
If we remember back to part one of this tactical analysis on Inzaghi’s Benevento, the key to their goals scored was crossing from key positions, getting numbers into the box, and being alive to the scraps of these moments.
It is no surprise to see Benevento flip those things on their head when it comes to their own penalty area.
In this part of the pitch, we will look again at some of the stats from earlier and see how they stand up as we dig a little deeper into the tactical details.
Here is the overview of every shot conceded by Benevento so far this season. 327 total across the season, as mentioned previously just on 11 per game. The number of shots from deeper really change the average distance of those shots to the higher end as mentioned earlier but the real insight here is the 163 or almost exactly half of those shots have been taken from inside the box. 60 of those shots were on target for the 14 goals conceded inside the box. A little over two shots a game on target from inside the box would lend itself to the thought that they should concede more goals but, only three penalties carry an xG of over 0.6 and more remarkably only eight have an xG over 0.4. A shot every four games from inside the penalty area with an xG of over 0.4 is an incredible statistic and possibly the biggest indicator of why Benevento concede so few goals.
From an xG point of view, the more variables the chance contains the lower the value. It is now time to make some assumptions from piecing all the information together.
From their perspective, the more players they get around the ball is the key. It limits time and space, probably producing shots from minimal touches thus lowering the chance of quality. It is likely that a large chunk of these chances will be reaction type efforts that could come from messy moments of play and therefore instinctive, again reducing their quality. Those assumptions are based on the following examples.
For the higher end chances like this example below there is a big difference.
In this image, the Benevento centre-back steps out of the line to deal with a potential shot on target. Leaving the line and the fullback already engaged creates a rare moment where they are without an overload in their line.
From a defending point of view, there are two issues, first, there is now a real lack of numbers in the box. The second is the body shape of the backline. Facing their own goal gives the game away as to Benevento’s biggest weakness if it can be exploited. Balls in behind the backline for crosses delivered in between the goal and the recovering defenders. These account for 5 of the 8 chances with xG higher than 0.4 (the other three are penalties) from within the penalty area. In this particular image, the ball side centre-back out of position creating a one vs moment for the other centre-back and the recovering full-back on the near side losing the battle to get tight to his attacker.
Here in this image, the same example. Lack of numbers and therefore the extra man and an early delivery into the box. The lack of numbers is down to the full-back having to support the wide midfielder to deal with the cross as the central midfield players are out of position. That has a knock-on effect on the backline who are closer to the ball than normal and outside the width of the goal. This creates gaps for the attacking players to exploit and create chances.
This sort of chance is few and far between. The images next give a greater overview of the defensive organisation that is more widely seen from Benevento when defending their goal.
Here is another potential crossing position for the opponent. Benevento has done a much better job here at protecting central areas and therefore forcing the ball into a wide area and for that reason are ready for the cross with the narrow backline. As mentioned earlier, the midfield line is across to the ball with the wide midfielder and the ball side central midfielder protecting forward play. This keeps the backline together and compact.
In this image, the standout is the numbers in the box defending. Six inside the area plus three on the ball side dealing with the source of a potential cross means that Benevento can either stop the cross from coming into the box or at worst deal with the first contact of the ball because of the excess numbers.
The only loss of the season against Pescara, a 4-0 defeat is the one glitch in an otherwise perfect season. However, two penalties and a converted set piece made up three of the goals and is the one game where Benevento underperformed on xG both sides of the ball. The other matches contain so many examples like above that flip their attacking strategy on its head.
Out of Possession Conclusion
The conclusion of Benevento’s defensive foundation can be summed up by the phrase “the sum of the parts is greater” When they are organised, they control the opponent and what the can do to progress the ball. It is a mostly zonal system with everyone filling their own role within each line. Everyone contributes and there is an obvious pride in what they do without the ball.
They know what they are good at and they stick to it as much as they can. This does not mean they do not suffer at times and they are happy to concede possession in most games with 48% possession so far this season.
As individuals only Alessandro Tuia, Siriki Sanogo and Luca Antel have a challenge success rate of over 70% which tells the story that the collective effort is far greater than individual quality and therefore when they are prepared and controlling the opponent it is very difficult to get success, maybe down to a little lack of quality of the opponent but, when you can force them into defending outnumbered or find a player doing something they shouldn’t be doing within the system you can find moments to exploit. The fact these things don’t happen a lot is down to the professionalism of the players, the commitment by the staff to implement the system, and the realisation by all concerned that it is effective.
As individuals, there are good players within the group at this level but no standouts. However, as a collective, they are far superior to the teams around them.
They are overperforming with and without the ball this season. xG has them conceding 23 goals instead of the 15 in reality and also has them at 53 points instead of the 69 they have accumulated. The could be a belief that they have been lucky. In part one we talked about not being able to win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. Therefore the more players Benevento gets into the box according to their strategy helps them achieve a ruthless efficiency in front of goal. Without the ball, it is a similar story. Get numbers around the ball when dealing with crosses and direct play. If they don’t win the first contact, win the second one. If teams don’t cross or play direct, let teams shoot from distance against a low block.
They will be crowned champions in due course, without a doubt. Whether this tactical model can work so effectively against the quality that Serie A has to offer is up for debate but it will be interesting to see if they can limit those future opponents so effectively to keep their head above water in the big time. If they can add a little more quality to the group with those new faces buying into Inzaghi’s obvious tactical foundations the could be difficult to take points from. Whether they are to everyone’s liking will be up for debate but as mentioned in part one The objective facts of football will never change. Two teams of eleven players try to prevent and score goals to win games.
From here, the subjectivity of the coach and the football club takes over. How you achieve the ultimate objective is cultivated by a belief in the way the game should be played by whichever coach is in the hot seat. If winning is the highest priority then does it really matter what it looks like? If success is paramount to your club do you care if that success clashes with your beliefs on how the game should be played?
Either way, you cannot argue with Benevento’s impressive record!