Lazio 0-2 Fiorentina: Ledesma shows how not to play the holding midfield role – again

March 11, 2013

The starting line-ups

A familiar, assured passing performance from Fiorentina – but a rare away victory. They leapfrog Lazio into fourth.

Vladimir Petkovic was without right-winger Antonio Candreva after his red card against Milan last week, so moved Alvaro Gonzales to the flank and used Ederson in the middle. Lorik Cana started at the back, in place of Giuseppe Biava.

Vincenzo Montella selected his 4-3-3 formation. Alberto Aquilani was unavailable in the centre of the pitch, so Giulio Migliaccio started in his position, while Nenad Tomovic played at right-back.

Fiorentina were clinical here – dominating the opening period with clever passing triangles, then playing possession football in the second half to seal a relatively comfortable victory.

Formations

Lazio were in their usual 4-1-4-1 system, but Montella’s 4-3-3 is a new innovation. For the first half of the season he played a 3-5-1-1 system, but in recent weeks he’s turned to four at the back. This is about concentrating on the balance of his own players rather than reacting to the opposition – he’s played that way against Inter’s 4-3-1-2, Bologna’s 4-2-3-1, Chievo’s 3-5-2 and now Lazio’s 4-1-4-1.

Interestingly, despite 3-5-1-1 and 4-3-3 being very different formations, Montella can use the same set of players easily in both systems. The midfield triangle stays intact, and the rest of the players shuffle across – Tomovic (or Facundo Roncaglia) can play centre-back or right-back, Manuel Pasqual can be a left-back or a wing-back, Juan Cuadrado right-wing-back or right-wing, and Adem Ljajic left wing or as a ‘floating’ number ten. Therefore, Montella can name his starting XI and leave the opposition wondering about his shape.

Here, this was a fairly simple battle of formations. Both sides were 4-1-4-1 without the ball, 4-3-3 with it – although Fiorentina’s greater emphasis upon possession football meant they got men into attack more readily.

Passing and pressing

This is the age of universality – defenders are expected to pass reliably, attackers are expected to lead the pressure, and this is something Montella has introduced particularly well at Fiorentina. He’s not the only one in Serie A, of course – see how opponents have experienced problems against Juventus’ technically talented back three – but it’s in matches like this, Montella’s side appear to be playing an opponent rather stuck in the past.

Granted, the majority of Lazio’s XI had played a midweek Europa League game against Stuttgart, and may have been physically tired. Still, it was odd for them do put so little pressure upon the opposition’s back four, especially when Montella’s side have such an emphasis on playing out from the back. Fiorentina’s first goal, as good as the passing move was, came partly because Lazio applied no pressure whatsoever in the opposition half, inviting Fiorentina to knock the ball casually into the final third.

On the other hand, Fiorentina were more proactive with their pressing: Stevan Jovetic closed down, with support from Borja Valero. Lazio’s back four isn’t particularly comfortable on the ball, despite the presence of Cana at the heart of the defence, and often conceded possession cheaply.

Fiorentina attackers

Fiorentina’s key area was strength was in the inside-left position. Here there were three things happening which completely outwitted Lazio – Jovetic dropped short away from Cana, Ljajic drifted inside from the flank, and Valero charged forward from attack.

Fiorentina’s three key attackers combined with some neat passing, and the first goal – Ljajic’s pass inside, Valero’s stepover and Jovetic charging onto the ball from deep – was a perfect example. Cana was completely uncomfortable when brought out from the defence.

Ledesma – Pizarro

However, the key tactical feature of the game was in the centre of midfield. Here, the battle of the triangles was clear – Valero and Migliaccio battled against Hernanes and Ederson. The left-sided players were more adventurous, the right-sided players stayed in a slightly more defensive position (although it was sometimes different to tell Valero and Migliaccio apart…)

This left two players free – David Pizarro and Cristian Ledesma. Pizarro is clearly the more creative player, playing a similar role to Andrea Pirlo at Juventus, and it’s imperative for opponents to close him down.

Lazio attempted this – but did so in a bizarre way. With Hernanes and Ederson busy with their two-against-two battle, it was Ledesma who moved forward, trying to shut down Pizarro in possession. This isn’t the first time this has happened, either – as ZM outlined following Lazio’s 3-0 home defeat to Napoli:

“Ledesma was also baffled about his role without the ball, particularly at defensive transitions – when Napoli roared past Lazio on the counter-attack. Sometimes he moved higher up the pitch to pressure the Napoli central midfielders, but was neither high enough to stop them, nor deep enough to provide cover against Napoli’s front three.”

The same thing happened here, and Ledesma’s decision (or instruction) to move up and press Pizarro was disastrous in a variety of ways. First, his pressing wasn’t very effective – he often started 20 yards away from Pizarro, so was too late to block the diagonal passes out wide. Second, he left a huge gap in front of the defence, which was exploited by Jovetic, Valero, Ljajic and sometimes even Cuadrado on the right (which was surprising as the Colombian is very much a wide player, but even he couldn’t resist breaking inside into the space). Third, Ledesma couldn’t get into a position to move out wide and double up with the full-backs against the wide players, which would have been a useful thing as the ’spare’ player in front of a back four. Ledesma’s distribution was also disappointing, even when given time on the ball.

It’s difficult to understand why Lazio couldn’t have adapted naturally – Ederson could have passed Valero onto Ledesma (the Spaniard was playing high up anyway) with Ederson becoming the player to press Pizarro. Alternatively, Lazio’s midfield triangle could have tilted so Hernanes moved into a number ten position (which he doesn’t favour, but he could have dropped into midfield in possession if he wanted to) with the other two sitting deeper. In fact, the only time Pizarro was dispossessed in the first half was by Sergio Floccari, coming back from a centre-forward role.

It was an absolute disaster in the centre of the pitch for Lazio, and no surprise that Petkovic removed Ederson, Hernanes and Ledesma – maybe with the Europa League in mind, but it was a fair reflection of their performances. The first change was Libor Kozak on for Ederson, with Lazio shifting to a 4-4-2 – but this just invited Fiorentina to command the midfield zone and take the sting out of the game, after Ljajic’s free-kick made it 2-0 early into the second half.

Conclusion

Part of Fiorentina’s victory was about the big things (superior passing and pressing ) and part of it was about the midfield battle, where, incidentally, Montella might be better off with a more reliable ‘runner’ like Migliaccio than another passer like Aquilani.

For the second time this season, Ledesma’s midfield role was absolutely baffling – it was amazing to see a side’s deepest midfield to move all the way forward to become the most advanced midfielder, trying to close down Pizarro. Lazio’s midfield was all over the place, and Fiorentina took advantage.


Lazio 0-2 Fiorentina: Ledesma shows how not to play the holding midfield role – again

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