Serie A: Into the bigtime with Trieste! Pre-season prep and tactical analysis

serie a

So here we are: US Triestina’s first Serie A campaign since 1958! The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us, but this was also the case in Serie B.

In this post I will look at:

  • Backroom staff overhaul
  • Transfer activity
  • Tactical analysis from our first two games
  • Highlight some of the lessons learned and tactical adjustments I would need to make

Backroom staff

A major benefit from an increased reputation is the ability to attract superior coaching staff to a club. Consequently, I set about doing this and fire my Assistant Manager and four coaches, replacing them with attributes approaching twenty in their specialist areas:

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The reasoning behind these appointments is obvious, but I also try and attract a good to very good attribute for Working With Youngsters, given the relatively youthful make-up of my squad.

I also wanted a much more specialised Assistant Manager, and an Italian speaker I felt would be a better fit than the previous incumbent, Paul Driver.


Transfer activity

In my previous post I highlighted some signings that I made immediately after promotion, the main ones being a new goalkeeper Seydou Sy and a defensive midfielder, Christiansen.

Having spent some time on staff recruitment and evaluating my youth setup, it was time to reinforce the squad ahead of the Serie A campaign. As ever, I was looking for strong mental attributes, regardless of position. The theory being that they would be very helpful in a likely relegation battle and to cope well with adversity:

  • Determination
  • Work rate
  • Bravery

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In defence, Thychosen was signed on loan from Watford. He can play in a wide range of positions, and possesses good mental attributes. He has excellent pace and will strengthen an area of the team with no cover. He has been earmarked as my first choice right-back for the season.

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Andrade: Signed with an eye to the future, an 18 year old regen with excellent physical skills but undoubtedly he has ample room for improvement.

I also re-signed Adam Lewis on loan from Liverpool, having played for the team in Serie B last season.

Were my defensive reinforcements good and deep enough? Only time will tell, but with hindsight, I would have added a couple more.

Onto midfield, and a raft of signings both centrally and on the flanks:

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Doumbia: He would be my first choice MR/AMR. He possesses good pace, movement, determination and crossing skills. Signed on loan for the season and a big upgrade on my alternative for this position, Maracchi.

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Ninkovic: Also signed on a season-long loan, Ninkovic would be my preferred option for ML/AML. He has similar attributes to Doumbia and has started the campaign well.

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To central midfield, Verre is my primary playmaker with good creative and mental skills, with very good stamina and fitness abilities. I had earmarked him to play either as a DLP or AP depending on the formation and system.

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Makengo: He would support Verre in central midfield; he has good physical attributes although he is slightly weaker in the technical department. However he could also provide cover at DM.

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Spinozzi: Another loan signing, he would provide competition for Christiansen in defensive midfield but is a slightly weaker option.

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Lakay: This was a permanent signing from South Africa, and a result of my upgraded scouting capabilities. I was also without the services of Cortinovis, who had occupied the AM role in each of my previous two seasons. I particularly liked his ability to play in a few central attacking areas, as well as his excellent mental and physical capacity.

In attack, Cedric Teuchert was my main signing for £1.9m. I was impressed by his good technical skills of finishing, movement off the ball and finally his pace. His preferred role is an AF, which would require some modifications to my strategy.


Ortiz: A signing from Columbia, with an eye on the future once again. As with some South American players, he is technically very adept and has searing pace. I’m not sure how much he would contribute this season, but at £400k that would not matter too much.

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In retrospect, I was pleased with my activity but felt that I could have brought more experience into the club. Let’s see how the early part of the season played out:

Early season progress and tactical analysis

My worst fears were coming to bear; we have been beaten in each of our first 5 league matches, conceding 13 goals in the process. Some games were better than others, but we have been conceding some infuriating goals along the way.

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We are rooted to the foot of the league, although not too far from lower mid table so I’m not panicking just yet. The Board are starting to lose faith though!

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I highlighted in my previous post that I was concerned with the high amount of goals conceded in Serie B last season, and the situation clearly has not improved.

Now I’ll focus a couple of the games when things went particularly badly and outline the learnings that I’ll take into the rest of the season.

Atalanta away (0-2)

This is how the teams lined up:


My standard formation for most of last season in Serie B; one I felt that gave me both a solid base in defence and also attacking opportunities. I was restricted by injuries to my first-choice keeper Sy and my new striker Cedric Teuchert. I decided to play the youngster Di Giorgio up front, but he didn’t have the best game.

Here are the match stats, with one very alarming statistic to highlight the step from Serie B to A:

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We had 57% possession of the ball, but zero shots on target which was extremely concerning. If the side has no attacking threat, then there is too much pressure on the defence to keep the opposition out for the entire game. Moreover, with Atalanta having 19 shots, that meant that we weren’t restricting them either. Here is a shot map for both sides:

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Around half of Atalanta’s shots were on target, whereas our solitary effort was blocked even though on target.

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This chart shows Atalanta’s quality of shots from another perspective; the vast majority of their efforts were inside the penalty area.

The interceptions map also shows a huge contrast between the team: look at how how hard we had to work defensively (on the right in red) compared to Atalanta:

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We had to make several interceptions in our penalty area whereas in contrast, Atalanta had little to do in their penalty area. They were able to stop our attacking attempts on the flanks and centrally, well away from the area.

OK so we know that we had little threat and conceded too many efforts. What went wrong?

The first thing I look at is the individual player ratings and passing stats, to see how successful we were at keeping the ball:

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A modest performance from my central defenders but also a poor game for my four attacking players, who I believed were starved of the ball. A look at possible reasons:

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One of my beliefs is the importance of high pass completion stats from my goalkeeper and defence, in order to maximise the quality of passes into the creative and attacking players. Further evidence of the improved quality of Serie B is how much those completion rates were significantly down on last season.

I always aim to keep possession as much as possible, which is why I try and recruit players with good technical skills. Clearly, promotion to a higher standard of football means that this is more difficult, but this is something I have to keep an eye on.

Another reason for our lack of attacking threat as mentioned earlier, the selection of Di Giorgio as a lone striker clearly did not work. His passes received map shows how isolated he was, and also how far he was from goal:

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He had zero attempts on goal and only received one pass in the final third, so what could he be expected to do?

Di Giorgio has 11 for Strength and 15 for Work Rate, therefore he does have the capacity to work up front alone, but he is too inexperienced to be used as a lone striker. In addition, the other two wide players were on attacking and support duties, so perhaps they were not offering enough support. He was replaced in the 59th minute by Teuchert, but he fared no better and had only one touch of the ball.

Summary of learnings:

  • 4-1-4-1 can be exploited in several ways and I need to adjust the roles within the team to limit opposition threat and protect my defence more
  • Passing out from the back needs to be improved. This can be due to the limitations of the player or the system, but most likely both.
  • Di Giorgio is not an effective lone striker and needs additional support
  • When facing superior teams I need to ensure that I am more compact; this system allows for threat in wide areas.

Now onto the second game, at home to Napoli:

Napoli H (L 0-3)

This was a very humbling experience and one that firmly put Trieste in their place. A look at the systems used by both teams:


And this is how the match played out – it was an extremely heavy defeat during which we were dominated from the first minute to the last:

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A staggering 25 shots conceded, of which around half were on target. Trieste attempted 4 shots with only 1 on target, making that a very alarming 2 on target for the first 2 games. We also suffered a very poor pass completion rate of 67% which is another immediate red flag.

I think I made a serious error in this game, by offering up space in behind to Napoli’s AMR and AML.

Time to look at the player stats, with one hand covering the eye:

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Revisiting those pass completion stats, I was alarmed by the goalkeeper’s ratio of 48%, with Sabatino (LB) and Thychosen (RB) also passing the ball poorly throughout the match. This also applied to my wide players Doumbia and Ninkovic. The chart below shows a few player’s failed or incomplete passes. Again the goalkeeper passing (13) is alarming and instantly highlights that I wasn’t able to play the way I wanted to:

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When analysing the pass and heat maps combined, it was clear how much Napoli had things all their own way:

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Clearly there is lots of time spent in the attacking and central midfield stratas, with plenty of penetration in and around the box, more so on the right hand side. In contrast, this is how Trieste’s corresponding map looked:

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The six yard box and defensive midfield areas are our most occupied areas, with barely any time spent in the opposing half. Therefore I believe that my formation gave too much space to Napoli’s creative players, which was a serious mistake.

A glance at Napoli’s squad underlines the wealth of talent that they have at their disposal:

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Several players with valuations of over £30m with Lorenzo Insigne the crown jewel with a valuation of over £60m. Giving such talent space and time was a serious error on my part.

The interceptions map below outlines how hard our defensive unit had to work, with several last-ditch attempts made around our penalty spot or even closer. In contrast to Napoli who had things very easy in their penalty area.

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When the Napoli attacks were not repelled, these are the shots we had to deal with:

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Possibly the keeper felt so under attack that a pass completion rate of 48% wasn’t too bad after all! So after this game, plenty of things for me to think about, and having lost a further three games after Napoli, time to rethink things.

So my learnings from my early games include the adoption of a new system as shown below, designed to sit deep, restrict space and offer a counter-attacking threat:



These are the instructions for each phase of play:


The system is a counter-attack one and has worked well for me in previous versions of the game. Although far from the best squad in the division, we do have good pace in wide areas and in attack, whilst we have good mental skills to dig in and defend for long spells. We will play for set pieces, keep hold of the ball and recycle around midfield, and look to break quickly.

The half-back is intended to drop into the back three to provide additional defensive support; whilst providing a link to the two more attack-minded central midfielders.

In transition and out of possession, I want us to get back into shape quickly rather than counter-press, whilst pressing is a key focus of our tactics, especially a much higher line of engagement in order to minimise the amount of time that the opposition has to build from the back.

More general changes I’m looking to make are:

  • Play a more defensive game against the sides which are far more well-resourced than Trieste, deciding when to pick our battles. This will require changes to our 4-4-1-1 system which we employ mainly at home
  • Look at ways to improve support to the lone striker, as we have had very few shots on target in our early games
  • Look to reinforce the defence in the winter transfer window

It is a long season, but we need to start getting our act together very quickly.

Thanks for reading.

Follow Dictate The Game on Twitter and Facebook.

Links to other articles you may enjoy:

Serie B continues: Can US Triestina avoid the drop?

Project Aswijan | Introduction

How to Build Your Midfield in FM19 | Football Manager Guide

US Triestina – Season 1: Performance Analysis


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