Bologna hosted Sassuolo at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara on Sunday at lunchtime in an almost empty background. The hosts came to the game after an unpredictable loss against Benevento, looking to improve their situation after only one win in three games. Meanwhile, Sassuolo took on the “Derby dell’ Emilia” looking for the third win in a row.
This tactical analysis will examine both sides and explain how Bologna lost this game and especially how Sassuolo managed to get back. It was an extremely entertaining 3-4 that allowed De Zerbi’s team to reach the second place in the table behind Milan.
Bologna were set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, a Sinisa Mihajilovic trademark tactics. Former Roma goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski started in goal. Aaron Hickey as left-back and Lorenzo De Silvestri on the other side. Danilo came back after injury in the place of Gary Medel. Takehiro Tomiyasu partnered the captain in the center.
Mattias Svanberg started along with Jardy Schouten as the double pivot. Former Villarreal midfielder Roberto Soriano played as offensive playmaker. While Riccardo Orsolini and Musa Barrow started on the right and left flanks, respectively. Evergreen Rodrigo Palacio led the front line as a lone center-forward.
Roberto De Zerbi also proposed his usual 4-2-3-1. Andrea Consigli started in between the posts. Former Foggia manager chose Vlad Chiriches and Gianmarco Ferrari in the centerline. Mert Muldur as a right-back while Georgios Kyriakopoulos on the other side.
In midfield, Mehdi Bourabia and Manuel Locatelli played as central midfielders. Filip Djuricic as the “No.10”. Francesco Caputo led the line, Domenico Berardi started on the right while Ahmed Traore on the left.
Bologna’s defensive structure – Soriano, the key player
As we can see, Bologna were set up in a solid 4-4-2 formation when out of possession. Roberto Soriano was always ready to raise his position near one of the two center-backs. Schouten and Svanberg on the Sassuolo’s double pivot while Orsolini and Barrow dealt with Kyriakopoulos and Muldur. In this case, Consigli was vital in order to pledge positional superiority.
For the Italian goalkeeper, 34 passes (82% of pass accuracy): 20/26 passes (77% of accuracy) beyond his own third. In this tactical board, we can see the importance of Djuricic and the consequence of the movement of Danilo. Consigli tried some short passes but he often went long in order to exploit the 3 vs 3.
This behaviour shocked Sassuolo. As a matter of fact, the Neroverdi lost six times the possession in the first fifteen minutes, whereas the Rossoblu seemed more determined: four successful tackles, two shots, 85 passes, and four interceptions. However, Bologna could have intensified the pressing since the PPDA (pressing intensity) was only 8.9 in the first half against the 19.9 of Sassuolo (37.0 after the first Bologna goal).
In the image below we can see the key role of Roberto Soriano. He played between the lines. After the quick recovery of the ball, both Schouten and Svanberg have always found him ready to start the transition. The former Sampdoria player started this season well with three goals and two assists.
Honorable mention also goes to Rodrigo Palacio. The forward cut behind Ferrari. Also Chiriches followed him. The “Trenza” received the ball from Orsolini in the penalty area and picked Soriano who won the run duel against Bourabia.
Soriano is central to Bologna’s attacking method. When the Italian attacking midfielder is on fire, Bologna plays well. His vision and quality between the lines are vital to replenish Palacio, Orsolini, and Barrow.
In the second goal, Svanberg moved without the ball in the space beyond Barrow. The Gambian cut inside followed by Muldur and Bourabia was stopped by the referee. Soriano assisted the goal number 32 for the temporary 2-1.
Sassuolo’s philosophy never changes
This approach did not change Sassuolo’s mentality. The players have never wasted a ball and always tried escaping from the pressure with short passes. The condition imposed by De Zerbi’s style of play could be counterproductive. His team can take advantage of big spaces beyond the opposition, but the percentage of error raises exponentially despite the presence of technical midfielders.
In the third Bologna goal action, Locatelli recovered the ball stealing it from the feet of Barrow. Bologna activated the gegen-pressing immediately with Svanberg and Schouten. The former Milan midfielder ran towards the penalty area and then managed to elude Bologna’s players. But in a risky zone, the Italian failed in the short pass leaving Orsolini free to score.
Roberto De Zerbi has identified an aggressive, attacking style of play for his Sassuolo side, with the aim being to dominate possession across the pitch, in order to generate goalscoring opportunities. And they did this effectively in this game with 57% possession and 20 shots to Bologna’s 11.
Sassuolo often played short passing systems both wide and centrally, looking to build up play at pace and interchange the ball between a group of players that overload a zonal area on the pitch. This was often seen on the right side of Sassuolo’s system, with Muldur being a keen overlapping and attacking full-back while Berardi making darting runs wide and cutting inside when required. As a matter of fact, Sassuolo preferred his right side, as we can see in the match report.
Sassuolo also relied on the unique and impressive talents of individuals in this side, notably Filip Djuricic and Francesco Caputo. Caputo was excellent in pledging the width and in finding the other attacking midfielders to advance the play further up the pitch. Djuricic’s specialties are his impressive dribbling ability (three in this game) and chance creation from long balls and key passes (five in this game). I also remember that another key player, Jeremy Boga, is now coming back from Coronavirus. No game for him this season but he is fundamental in De Zerbi’s system (11 goals and 4 assists in Serie A 2019/20).
Big bugs in Bologna’s defence
One of the big problems in every Mijahilovic team is the capacity of keeping the pressure high for the entire game. Sassuolo started playing with one-two passes after the goal, creating systematically positional superiority in the center of the pitch. One example is in the image below that coincided with the first Sassuolo goal.
Locatelli and Bourabia took the three Bologna midfielders wide on the right. In this vision, Chiriches had lots of space. Bologna’s defense could only back away because of the three 1vs1 on the left. Berardi found the net after a great shot outside the penalty area.
Bologna led 3-1 at the 60th minute but the Rossoblu wasted their advantage. The defensive behavior was awful in the last part of the match. In the image below we can see how Sassuolo shortened the distances.
The Neroverdi took advantage of the injury of De Silvestri and attacked the left side. Caputo received the ball and waited for the insertion of one of the attacking midfielders. In this case, Djuricic won the duel with Tomiyasu who was attracted by the ball and the Serbian scored.
Another interesting Sassuolo leitmotiv in the fourth goal: Berardi cut inside with the ball attracting his marker Hickey. Djuricic let Kyriakopoulos overlap on the left. Orsolini did not follow him so the Greek had so much space to attack. The full back crossed finding the unlucky deviation of Tomiyasu.
In the post lockdown, Sassuolo’s Francesco Caputo (15) and Domenico Berardi (14: 8 and 6 assists) are the two Italian players to have been involved in the most goals in Serie A. Sassuolo put words into action and this year is going to be fascinating. De Zerbi managed to shape a team that is able to attack in many ways, with some huge talents, and with a strong disposition. This victory against Bologna is the latest evidence. Sassuolo has now five games before the match against Inter at the end of the following month. It will be a significant period to understand the real ambitions of De Zerbi’s boys.
In Serie A 2020/21 only Alejandro Gomez (six) has been involved in more goals than Roberto Soriano (five: three goals and two assists). As we saw in this analysis, Bologna has a good attacking force but the numerous defensive blackouts represent a limit in the overall team development.