Matchday twenty-nine sees AC Milan play Società Polisportiva Ars et Labor 1913 or SPAL 1913 (such a long name). Milan will travel to Ferrara for a crucial fixture in the chase for a European spot. How SPAL will play is crucial. This article will focus on SPAL’s tactics and other important facts for the upcoming fixture.
This will all be based on Wyscout data.
The Typical SPAL Formation and Tactics
At the beginning of the season SPAL rotated between a 3-5-2 and a 5-3-2. In every game since their loss to US Sassuolo Calcio on February 2nd, SPAL has played in a 4-2-3-1, 4-5-1, 4-4-2, or a 4-3-3. This formation change happened because of how poor SPAL had been earlier in the season. However, this formation change has only led to one SPAL win.
In a three-man backline, the outside wingbacks will press forward if the ball is on their side. If not, they will float deeper to provide some cover to the team. So if SPAL has the ball on the left, then the left wingback will push forward. In defense, the wingbacks will drop in line with the centrebacks and a line of three midfielders will sit in front of the backline.
In their four-man backline, the wingers will drop into a midfield five to create a midblock to help provide cover. The fullbacks become less aggressive, but the wingers have more substantial defensive responsibilities. Generally, the striker presses the opposition backline and tries to latch onto any long balls played from deep. It is a fairly provincial style of play and it has not generated much offense.
Offensively, SPAL is a joy to watch. It is not because the offensive tactics are good, it is because they play at a frenetic pace when in possession. Every pass is as aggressive as possible, players dribble into trouble, everyone is constantly sprinting, and they play many lofted through balls. Any team that has any pace in their backline can easily shut down the SPAL attack. In a two-man strike partnership, they have one forward support the more traditional striker (Andrea Petagna). However, it is not always successful. The team’s aggressive passing can lead to a failure to connect any section of the field to another. If nothing works, then SPAL plays a ball over the top or a cross. However, do not fret, it is not boring. The speed at which SPAL plays offense is fantastic to watch, so get excited about that.
#SPAL coach Luigi Di Biagio has claimed he ‘tried to put #Napoli in difficulty’ and was happy with his players reaction: “It was a good test to continue hoping.” #SerieA #NapoliSpalhttps://t.co/7acOfEjQJS pic.twitter.com/dOUrQwvjVa— footballitalia (@footballitalia) June 29, 2020
How the Numbers Talk About SPAL
In terms of xG, SPAL has created 31.20 total xG and has only scored 21 goals (they have received seven penalties this season). Their xG total is the third-worst in Serie A and their goal total is the worst. The teams xG per shot is second-worst in the league (one ahead of Milan). In addition, SPAL has the second least touches in the box per 90 in Serie A. This all speaks to how poor the SPAL offensive tactics are. There is no real consistent plan when the team breaks forward. The chaotic passing deeper in the field leads to aimless build-up. Preventing them from breaking into dangerous areas has been easy for most teams in Serie A.
Defensively, SPAL has given up the eighth-most xG (45.25). They have given up 45 goals this season, so they have allowed the number of goals expected of them. This can be explained through the danger of the individual shots they face. They allow the twelfth most dangerous individual shots in Serie A. So, they give up a lot of shots, but not many dangerous shots. This allows a goalie to make more routine saves. The issue is that SPAL gives up shots in droves. They struggle to prevent shots and are willing to sit off teams around the top of their box. It is not a functional strategy and has not paid dividends. Currently, SPAL is in seventeenth by expected points (they have ten fewer points than expected).
Thoughts on the Match
SPAL has played incredibly poorly all season. They are currently eight points adrift from safety. I would expect SPAL to continue to slip and possibly drop out of Serie A this season. SPAL plays conservatively, but this has directly led to them being in the relegation zone.
I personally am not bullish on any player currently playing for SPAL. Andrea Petagna has scored twelve goals, but five have been penalties. He ranks in the sixteenth percentile for non-penalty xG per 90 and in the fourth percentile for non-penalty xG per shot. He is SPAL’s most notable player, but I am not sure he would be successful at a club higher up the league. Somebody has to score goals for a team and that can inflate players’ statistics. I have a feeling that Petagna is that player (now that I have said that, he is certainly going to score against Milan. I am sorry).
I would expect SPAL to play in a four-man backline and try to counter-attack against Milan. For the majority of the game expect them to sit deep and try to maintain their shape. Milan will need to break down their two defensive banks to score, but this seems more than feasible. The Rossoneri have already beaten them once this year, a now-better Milan side should be able to go to Ferrara and pick up all three points.