It was Verona’s first game in Serie A since 2002, and what a night it turned out to be.
The Gialloblu brought back glimpses of the memorable 84/85 season when they won the Scudetto in style.
On Saturday night, the Hellas faithful witnessed something spectacular; it was a trip down memory lane.
They had actually defeated AC Milan, but how did Andrea Mandorlini pull it off?
Hellas Verona (4-3-3): Rafael; Fabrizio Cacciatore, Vangelis Moras, Domenico Maietta, Michelangelo Albertazzi; Jorginho, Massimo Donati, Romulo; Boško Janković, Luca Toni, Raphael Martinho. (Andrea Mandorlini)
AC Milan (4-3-3): Christian Abbiati; Ignazio Abate, Cristian Zapata, Philippe Mexes, Kevin Constant; Andrea Poli, Riccardo Montolivo, Antonio Nocerino; M’Baye Niang, Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy.(Massimiliano Allegri)
As we can see, both sides clearly went for a 4-3-3. In order to analyse Verona’s play more we have to look at their shape in attack and their shape when defending.
Shape in Attack
The Gialloblu were really dangerous when it came to offensive play. The reason for this was how they stuck to the game plan.
Hellas almost exclusively attacked on the wings, and the reason for this was because they had a target man in Luca Toni. The World Cup winner’s specialty is aerial balls, and with players such as Martinho (left) and Jankovic (right) it made perfect sense to attack on the flanks.
Now, although Hellas on paper went for a 4-3-3, it was more of a 4-1-4-1 in reality. That’s because it would apply more pressure on Milan. How did the midfield trio line-up? Well, Massimo Donati would screen the defence, with Jorginho going more to the left and Romulo on the right.
It doesn’t mean they operated on the flanks, they were more of a RCM and a LCM. This made it almost impossible for Abate and Constant to go forward, because whenever they were on the ball two players or more exerted more and more pressure on them.
Toni has no pace, therefore logically it would make sense to put pressure on the wings and attack on the flanks as a) they’ll be more in number and b) Luca Toni wouldn’t be able to make these runs all night long.
Going through the middle requires a dynamic centre forward. To prove my point, according to Stats Zone app, the most pass combinations in the game were Abate to Montolivo with 23. This indicates that there was lots of pressure from the Verona players on the flanks, which made it arduous to break down.
Shape in Defence
This is the interesting part. Verona defended really well. As I said, Luca Toni is not a dynamic centre forward, and what Mandorlini did was that he made him operate as a clear target man.
His job? Being the first line of defence. At times, the big centre forward was well into Verona’s half of the pitch. Whenever he got the ball, the first thing he would do would be playing the ball wide.
When Milan were on the ball, Verona would line-up in a 4-1-4-1. The interesting thing was that Cacciatore and Jankovic were linear, and so were Albertazzi and Martinho. To prove my point, according to the Stats Zone app - Milan had 60.1% of overall possession and 56.0% of territory.
When Milan were on the ball, Verona would immediately retreat and line-up in a 4-1-4-1. Now, if that wasn’t the case why would passes between Cacciatore and Jankovic be 21 passes in total?
If Milan then break the four-man midfield, Martinho and Jankovic would quickly stand on the edge of the penalty area. Yes, a six man line of defence, all standing their ground on one line. The only moment when the Gialloblu’s defence switched off was Andrea Poli’s goal.
Overall, an outstanding game plan from Mandorlini. His 4-1-4-1 lining up in defence and eventually the six man ‘wall’ often made Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and M’Baye Niang drop really deep.
Due to the fact that you cannot get runs to bolster the attacking third from this Milan side or a player who can unleash a shot from distance (with the exception of Balotelli), this directly contributed to the Rossoneri's struggles.
According to WhoScored.com, Hellas Verona are ranked 19th in terms of defending amongst Europe’s top five leagues last matchday.
This was a no brainer for the Hellas gaffer. He knows that Balotelli is the pivot of this Milan side, he can come up with something special at any moment.
Whenever the Milan number 45 was on the ball two players would close him down, especially Jorginho. According to the Stats Zone app Balotelli had only five attempts on goal, four of which were OUTSIDE the penalty area.
The Midfield trio
These three deserve credit - Mandorlini’s game plan was based around them. And they were on top form. Romulo, Donati and Jorginho executed their roles perfectly. According to Stats Zone app, the most pass combinations in the game were all going backwards or sideways.
Abate to Montolivo | 23
Montolivo to Poli | 19
Montolivo to Zapata | 16
Zapata to Mexes | 16
Zapata to Montolivo | 16
Montolivo to Abate | 15
Constant to Montolivo | 14
Andrea Mandorlini played to his side’s strengths. Both goals were headers and out of 14 attempts on goal, five of which were headers, which equates to about 35.7% of all Verona attempts on goal.
Aerial balls exploited Milan’s carelessness in defence. If we look at the first goal again, it came after a bad clearance from Cristian Zapata. The goal itself was really bad defending, which left the defence in shatters. Luca Toni got in behind the defenders with Zapata on the wrong side of him, exactly what Mandorlini had wished for.
The second goal was also a header from Luca Toni who rolled back the years with another towering finish.
Watch Luca Toni's first goal
Watch Luca Toni's second goal
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