Spal show that Italian minnows too have good tacticians on the bench

Manager Analysis
Michele Tossani

Michele Tossani


Although nobody expected that, Spal got a draw against Serie A’s giants of Juventus. And they did it by playing their own play style, i.e a ferocious, tough to beat defensive approach that conceded nothing against Serie A’s best offence.

Pass map provided by @Ben8t highlights Spal’s positioning against Juventus .

After that, they also have been able to draw another game (1-1) versus Genoa with a man down after a questionable decision made by the video assistant referee (VAR).

Spal’s coach Leonardo Semplici approached his first ever Serie A managing experience repeating the same 5-3-2 line up that successfully led his side back into Italian top tier 49 years after their latest appearance there.

This 5-3-2 puts emphasis on a low defensive block: Spal don’t like to retain the ball, averaging only 46.3% in terms of ball possession.

Spal’s 5+3 defensive block against Genoa.

Francesco Vicari, Felipe and new-comer Thiago Cionek (brought in during the January transfer market) forms the starting three-man back line although Polish defender Bartosz Salamon too has seen notable playing action this season.

Playing with a three-man back line allows Semplici to add an extra centre-back to his side with the goal to cover, also adding central compactness. It also should give Spal an extra player in the initial build-up to play the ball out from the back. Truth be told, Semplici’s side is not know for a complex building phase as they tend to get the ball forwards as soon as possible.

Playing a three-man back line with three central midfielders should provide Spal the needed vertical compactness to close the middle of the field against opponents. By the way, Spal are third from bottom when it comes to shots allowed with a remarkable 15.7 per game.

Apart from individual mistakes made by Semplici’s players, this defensive frailty is likely to be due to the fact that Spal tend to defend very deep in their own final third of the pitch. It means they allow opponents to come close to Alex Meret’s net.

Goalkeeper Meret is another important piece of Semplici’s line up. Out until December due to an injury, the 21-years old keeper came back to reclaim the starting spot between the posts although his replacement – Alfred Gomis – also played well. Whilst he posted just two clean sheets, Meret registered 72.5% of saves showing these skills that some seasons ago made him a player to watch as possible replacement of Gianluigi Buffon as next Italy’s goalkeeper.

Spal’s midfield trio is built around Pasquale Schiattarella, Federico Viviani and Jasmin Kurtic. Viviani is the playmaker playing in front of the back-three. The 26-years old midfielder is an accurate passer (85.6%) and a good free-kick taker. Another newcomer from the Januray market, former Atalanta player Kurtic is a tireless worker with good technical skills. Initially, he was lined up as attacking midfielder behind a lone striker with Semplici opting for a 5-3-1-1 formation. This change didn’t improve Spal’s offensive phase so their coach came back to the initial 5-3-2 with Kurtic lined up as interior midfielder.

Although the Slovenian has shot just seven times so far, he showed to be an offensive upgrade in terms of technical skills and overall presence and he also contributed with Spal out of possession as his 59.3% of winning tackles highlights.

On his part, Schiattarella is one of the most qualitative players at Semplici’s disposal. He strongly contributed with Spal in possession as he registered an 81.5% pass success rate also adding 55% when it comes to winning duels. Despite being considered an attacking midfielder, Schiattarella registered 76.9% of winning tackles and, in the 0-0 draw with Juventus, he was lined up as holding midfielder in front of the back line. It worked as Schiattarella, Kurtic and Alberto Grassi –  another promising Spal midfielder – shut down their Bianconeri counterparts.

Schiattarella’s low position vs Genoa to help the three-man backline to get the ball out from the back.

Up front, Spal brought on some experienced forwards to face Serie A’s defences. Sergio Floccari, Marco Borriello and Alberto Paloschi all are veterans with many Serie A appearances under their belt. That said, their contribution wasn’t amazing in terms of goals scored with Floccari (3) and Borriello’s contribution (1) particularly weak. So, with Paloschi scoring 6 times, Mirco Antenucci turned out to be the scoring leader (8) and the team’s main offensive threat.

In the offensive final third of the field, Semplici asks his forwards to show combination plays also relying on the support provided on the flanks by the wing-backs, especially Manuel Lazzari. Acting on the right-side, the 25-years old wing-back is a constant threat moving higher up the pitch with his technical skills that made him an accurate passer (85.1% of success rate) and a pivotal part of Semplici’s game plan as the team’s attack usually come through the right flank.

In the end, Spal’s chances of avoidin relegation remain uncertain but Semplici’s side has some interesting positive aspects that make survival not impossible. Under Machín, Girona quickly became one of the most interesting sides in La Liga this term. Colombarini family – Spal’s owner – made the right choice when they hired Semplici back into 2014. Known as a youth coach expert until then, Semplici led Spal through consecutive promotions from Serie C to Serie A. Above all, he has quietened critics by showing he can coach more experienced players in the top tier.

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