Genoa has one of the best defenses in the league, conceding only seven goals in 10 games, the fewest in Serie A (alongside Juventus). Milan was unable to break down their highly disciplined defense in this match, allowing Genoa to capture all three points.
Genoa’s tactics in the defensive phase
Genoa’s defensive philosophy can be summarized in three words: constant numerical advantage.
Genoa has an initial formation of 3-4-3. Its defensive shape changes depending on the opponent and the position of the ball. In this game, they maintained a 4-5-1 / 5-4-1 when defending deep in their half. They have a zonal defense system with a very aggressive man-marking scheme within each zone. When an opponent ball handler enters a player’s zone, that particular player will man-mark the ball handler until Genoa regains the possession or the man-marking duty is passed to his teammates.
In this game, because Milan played with three strikers, it matched very well with the Genoa’s three center backs. Such match-up prevented Genoa from having a numerical advantage. Therefore, Diego Laxalt dropped back to the defense and was responsible for the left defensive third zone (facing Keisuke Honda) while Armando Izzo marked the right defensive third zone (facing M’Baye Niang). Ezequiel Munoz primarily marked Carlos Bacca while Nicolas Burdisso mainly provided cover.
Here every Milan’s player close to the ball was man-marked by a Genoa’s player. Burdisso did not mark anyone. He was there to provide defensive cover.
Depending on the location of the ball, the roles of the three center back sometimes swapped.
Here the duty to mark Bacca was passed to Burdisso because Bacca was in his zone. Therefore, Munoz was responsible for covering for Laxalt and Ninkovic.
Because Genoa always had an extra defender in their defensive phase. It allowed Genoa’s defenders to be able to attack and tackle their targets very aggressively.
Here because Burdisso was covering for him, Izzo could tackle Niang very aggressively:
Luca Rigoni was critical for their midfield defense. He sat in front of Miguel Veloso and Tomas Rincon. While usually facing Locatelli and two Milan’s center backs, he often aggressively chased and tackled Milan’s ball handler when they received a pass close to him.
Because of the zonal nature of Genoa’s defense, marking duty has to be passed on to another teammate when a ball handler leaves a defender’s zone. This transition of marking is often dangerous when the timing is not optimal. Genoa carried out these defensive duty shifts very well.
Here Laxalt was marking Honda. He closely followed him until Honda reached Rincon’s zone. Once there, Laxalt and Rincon exchanged defensive duty. Laxalt marked Bonaventura nd Rincon marked Honda.
Having an extra man in one area means there is a fewer player in another area. Genoa prioritized which players to mark. In particular, they allowed Milan’s two center backs, primarily Alessio Romagnoli, to advance the ball easily. Because of a wall of defenders in front of them, Romagnoli could only shoot or place an overhead pass.
Genoa’s strong and aggressive man-marking scheme can potentially derail its zonal defense when a defender moved out of his position. Another problem is that errors can easily occur when defensive duties are passed or exchanged between players. Such problem is solved by having the extra defender (mostly Burdisso) or midfielder (mostly Rigoni). They often provide defensive cover. Moreover, the extra man allows them to tackle ball handlers aggressively and regains possession very quickly.
Having scored through a Milan’s mistake, Genoa could focus on the defense and wait for counter attack opportunities. Without Suso, only one Milan player, Giacomo Bonaventura, had the skills or speed to create any opportunities. When he was closely guarded, Milan did not have too many creativities in the offensive phase. Genoa’s disciplined defense also highlighted Milan’s lack of pace regarding the ball distribution. The game was essentially over when Gabriel Paletta pulled off that ridiculous tackle and got himself sent-off.
My pick for the man of the match is Rigoni. He was instrumental to their defense and counter-attacks.
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