Serie A Week 12 – Sunday 30 October 2022 – Stadio Zini | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Udinese will look to get back on track after three winless rounds, while Cremonese need a positive result to save their coach’s job.
Despite what the standings indicate, Cremonese have actually played decent football so far, but they haven’t put together a complete match yet, hence victory still eludes them. Five draws keep them somewhat close to the other relegation struggles. They have had major troubles only versus elite sides like Inter, Lazio, and Napoli. But they haven’t fully exploited the head-to-head clashes, and the recent loss to Sampdoria at home was particularly damning. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they are considering a coaching change.
After Fabio Pecchia, who led them to the promotion, decided to leave the job, they went with a peculiar choice and poached Massimiliano Alvini from Perugia, who has no Serie A experience but has had an interesting Maurizio Sarri-esque football journey, as he spent a lot of time in the lower leagues, and a particularly exciting style.
They have more possession than the average minnow and always quite a lot of juice, even when the situation is dire. They probably would be even in worse shape with a more conservative philosophy. Their issues at both ends might come from the roster they assembled than from the gaffer. Still, a veteran one would probably bring some helpful intangibles. They are reportedly eyeing Aurelio Andreazzoli, who would be particularly apt since he would maintain the same principles.
They attack a lot, but their offensive production has been lacking. Cyriel Dessers only got going recently, and he’s behind schedule since he’s supposed to be their top scorer and catalyst. He might have the chops to do it, but he hasn’t been super consistent and left chances on the table. Instead, their other primary striker David Okereke is more of a mobile forward than a marksman. That gives them plenty of flexibility, which they are exploiting, but removes some dangerousness in the box.
Unfortunately for them, the numbers of Luca Zanimacchia, who was a terror last season, haven’t translated to the top division. Felix Afena-Gyan has gotten just spotty minutes and has yet to show up. In addition, they probably don’t have masterful cutters that can bag ten goals per year in the midfield. They are testing Charles Pickel as a no.10, and he has hit the net once, but he’s more of a hard-working kind of guy than a weapon in that position.
They have juggled between two schemes so far, either 3-4-1-2 or 4-2-3-1, because the manager realized they need more offensive punch. But the tactical switch hasn’t been a panacea, and they went back to the more defensive one last week, partly due to key absences. The squad is built for that, mainly because their wingbacks, Lorenzo Sernicola and Emanuele Valeri, are two of their best contributors and thrive in the final third. They have also occasionally used the latter as a winger, with Giacomo Quagliata behind him, and that might be their happy medium. It’s obviously not easy for them to contribute too much offensively with a four-man defense. Instead, they have the Atalanta-style wingback-to-wingback connection down to a T. They are both strong finishers, on top of being highly dynamic.
Vlad Chiriches missing multiple matches hurt their rearguard, as Luca Bianchetti is fine but not at the same level as a leader. They are still searching for one in the midfield too, where Santiago Ascacibar, Gonzalo Escalate, Soualiho Meité, and Michele Castagnetti have alternated, and neither has separated himself from the pack. It’s a little late to be still figuring out the pecking order. Considering the natural summer overhaul, the players also need to gel and get to know each other. An intermittent selection is damaging.
Overall, they potentially have the pieces to put up a fight in the relegation race, which might not involve many teams but promises to be very tight this season, but they still feel like a work in progress, both on the pitch and the bench, and time is starting to run out on them to get results.
With Luca Zanimacchia available after an injury and Luka Lochoshvili not in tip-top shape, the aggressive tactic is probably more likely. Andrei Radu is back from an elbow issue, but Marco Carnesecchi was better while filling in. Emanuel Aiwu and Afena-Gyan would slip into the XI if the teammates weren’t fully fit.
Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Carnesecchi; Sernicola, Bianchetti, Lochoshvili, Valeri; Castagnetti, Meite; Zanimacchia, Pickel, Okereke; Dessers.
Udinese have tailed off a little in recent games, as they are coming off two draws versus Atalanta and Lazio and their first loss of the season at the hands of Torino. That was bound to happen, but it doesn’t take too much away from their great start, where they rattled off six consecutive wins. It’s an achievement for any team, let alone not elite ones.
They were forced to change their coach in the summer, as Gabriele Cioffi preferred jumping ship to Verona, which didn’t work out well for him. They struck oil with Andrea Sottil, a former club legend that cut his teeth at length and just had a great season at Ascoli. While he has familiarity with schemes based on a four-man defense, he didn’t revolutionize their approach, as the three-man line is part of the fabric of the club at this point.
He added pace, intensity, and pizzazz. They are more prone to fielding multiple technical players at the same time now. A key change was moving Roberto Pereyra to the right wing, which happened by happenstance but stayed in place. They puzzlingly decided to sell Brandon Soppy, the heir apparent to Nahuel Molina, late in the summer, and the gaffer evidently didn’t think Festy Ebosele was ready. The veteran has more than held his own in his new role, as he hasn’t had too many troubles in the back, and he has continued to be a brilliant playmaker on offense, even though with less liberty compared to his days as a freelancing box-to-box.
The tweak opens up a spot in the midfield, which has been filled by an equally inventive player, either Sandi Lovric or Lazar Samardzic, who occasionally busts out incredible plays and shots and will turn into a difference-maker, and eventually their next rich plusvalenza, once he becomes more consistent.
Factoring in Gerard Deulofeu, who’s not scoring as routinely as in the past season but continues to dish assists left and right, they have a lot of passing and playmaking on the pitch. It’s no surprise that their attack has been thriving. Beto relented a little after a torrid start where he converted every chance he got. He has a ton of room for improvement, considering he had a challenging summer due to a lingering injury. He’s still very rough around the edges, as his first touch and decision-making often let him down, but he can put the ball in the net, and that’s a nice foundation, combined with his imposing physical traits. He can’t be considered a youngster anymore, but he’s not a finished product yet.
Having Pereyra wide allows to accommodate two muscular players, usually Walace and Jean-Victor Makengo, who aren’t spectacular but gives the formation a ton of balance and grittiness. And it adds another dimension to their offense since it stretches the pitch, which opens lanes for everybody for the other wingback, the brilliant Destiny Udogie who, despite his position, is arguably their second-best finisher on their squad behind Beto. They have a lot of weapons, and that has often blindsided and overwhelmed the opponents.
They won’t have their defensive linchpin Rodrigo Becao due to a thigh strain in this one, but Enzo Ebosse has been okay. Jaka Bijol quickly demonstrated to be more than equipped to lead the backline. He’s simply a huge presence in both boxes. Nehuen Perez is a total certainty at this point, and he has no problem playing on either side. The trio also allows them to build from the back with ease.
They play with a ton of energy and determination, and they are one of the teams that better exploits the sub. Isaac Success is particularly adept at that, even though he’s not a great scorer, which sometimes entices the coach to start him over Beto. Having either Lovric and Samardzic off the bench, plus Tolgay Arslan, always keeps the temperature high in the midfield. Not coincidentally, they have staged multiple comebacks already, and seeing them go down late versus Torino was surprising. They got a taste of success early, but that shouldn’t stir them away from their bread and butter, which is to be a fundamentally sound and risk-averse side that waits for their opportunity to unleash their strike force. They had combined the two elements during their run. They will be able to aim for a prestigious position if they rediscovered the balance.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Silvestri; Perez, Bijol, Ebosse; Pereyra, Lovric, Walace, Makengo, Udogie; Beto, Deulofeu.
Cremonese: Chiriches (ankle sprain).
Udinese: Becao (thigh strain), Masina (ACL tear).