Serie A is delightfully formatted into a proper round-robin format. A team will play each of the other 19 teams in the first half of the season (Andata) before facing off against each again in the same order in the second half of the season (Ritorno).
Where would a first season post be without talking about the starting tactic? As you’ll remember from the pre-season post, I had some club vision promises to fulfil with my set up. I also had my own wish of a three man defence to factor in.
This was the fruit of my Beta-labour with Manchester City. After a lot of tinkering it generally gave me what I wanted. It fared well in pre-season and I was confident of hitting the ground running once the season started.
We’ll start with domestic football – I mentioned my first five league fixtures in my pre-season post and boastfully declared my confidence. I was hoping for a minimum of 10 points and things started so well with a hard earned draw at home to Inter Milan. We had to work hard again to secure a point away to Torino but I called it an acceptable result. After beating Spezia 4-0 my confidence was sky high but a draw with Crotone and no points at home to Cagliari brought me back down to earth with a bump.
The reality check appeared to be exactly what was needed as we went unbeaten over the next four games which included a great away win over AS Roma thanks to Duván Zapata’s seventh goal of the season. Milan away was another reminder of the perils of complacency but also the perfect set up to an unbelievable result against champions Juventus (Zebre). Young Czech prospect Vorlicky grabbed his first senior goal against Fiorentina before Luis Muriel locked down the points against Udinese.
On our trip to Naples we were found wanting a pizza the points, partly thanks to Hans Hateboer’s early second half red card. The wheels were starting to wobble slightly as Hellas Verona staged an upset at the Gewiss but it was Hateboer atoning for his dismissal that kick started a comeback run of four undefeated. Perhaps the most enjoyable result of the bunch was the 2-2 draw with Lazio as Alexey Miranchuk’s late, late winner had me punching the air in delight in my own living room just after midnight.
It was a less than half-full Gewiss Stadium that witnessed Atalanta get this one over the line against Genoa in the First Round of the Coppa Italia. The result set us up with a Quarter Final fixture away to Inter Milan.
We were served up an unenviable Champions League group in PSG, Manchester United and Celtic.
PSG came to the Gewiss and were sent marching home with nothing to show for their travels. We came from behind against Celtic to put ourselves atop the group with maximum points from the opening two games. Our trip to Old Trafford was fruitless and the two goals scored make it appear a slightly closer game than it was in reality. We performed better when United came to Bergamo but a Fernandes penalty awarded by VAR (shocker) gave the visitors the points.
Parc Des Princes was the scene of a tactical masterclass as we nullified every PSG threat going, the point setting up an exciting final match day. As we sat in 3rd place, two points behind United and three behind PSG. All we had to do was win, thanks to Zapata we did just that as United claimed the victory over PSG to top the group.
LET’S TALK ABOUT STATS, BABY
It wouldn’t be a Football Manager blog without some reference to stats.
xGoals is the big thing this year, isn’t it? We have an xG in the league of 29.68 goals in our 19 games played. We scored 37 goals. What can we glean from the comparison of those two figures? Very little in my opinion. The numbers are a nice metric to look at but, as with any statistic, in isolation they don’t really tell you much about us. Are we outscoring expectation because we’re just so clinical in the final third or are we creating few truly great chances and just lucking out on a few strikes here and there?
Continuing with goals – Duván Zapata leads the charts with 13 (10 League, 3 Europe) with Josip Ilicic just behind on 10 (8 League, 1 Europe, 1 Cup) and Luis Muriel on 8 (7 League, 1 Europe).
Ruslan Malinovskyi is our unsung hero. He leads the assist chart with 6 and has also scored one of his own. It may not be high numbers at this stage but he’s at the heart of a lot of what we do, driving on from the midfield where he plays the Mezzala role. His 13.7km per 90 minute distance covered is key to a lot of what we do in the build up to attacks.
THE ANDATA IN REVIEW
We’re alive in Europe and in the domestic cup. We occupy 5th place in the league with the top four well within our sights. The team are becoming familiar with our first choice system and I’ve nailed down what I believe to be my strongest XI – although I do have plenty of room for rotation while still maintaining a strong team.
Football Manager is a game that I’m continually learning and today’s lesson is as follows: My assistant does not always know best.
Ok, so he’s still not my choice of assistant but, still, you have a full complement of backroom staff to provide a wealth of knowledge and support when you need it most. That being said, it doesn’t mean I should take on board every tactical suggestion from my assistant as from game-to-game he attempted to have me alter the Team Instructions to the point that I was no longer playing my own system!
Onwards and upwards with the Ritorno on our doorstep. We ‘return’ with our opening five league fixtures again at the opposite venues: Inter (away), Torino (home), Spezia (away), Crotone (home) and Cagliari (away) – I will be making no bold predictions this time around.
We’ll also have our Coppa Italia Quarter Final at Inter Milan and the Champions League Knockout double header against none other than current champions of England (but not English) Liverpool!
In my next post I’ll be reviewing the Ritorno, remaining cup fixtures and not forgetting – the January transfer window of my first season!