With the quality that exists in their squad, Genoa should really be pushing for the top four this season. European qualification should be the bare minimum considering some of the players who arrived during the summer (and the players that were already there). But a home defeat at the weekend to Chievo, who are unlikely to be anything other than a mid-table side at best, suggests the same fundamental flaws that were present last season still exist.
Two years ago, when they finished fifth (only their head-to-head record with Fiorentina kept them from a spot in the top four), they had a less talented squad than they do now, albeit with two players who were champions-in-waiting. That season was built on a formidable home record, with only Inter and Lazio walking out of Marassi with three points, and the goals of Diego Milito. There was also an element of surprise – their unconventional 3-4-3 was difficult for teams to fathom, and subsequently beating Genoa was a difficult task (they lost eight games all season).
The goals of Milito are now gone, but so is the element of surprise. It may have taken a while, but the opposition have figured out il Grifone. The firepower may have decreased, but the quality in central defence and in the wide areas is infinitely better than two years ago, and yet they still find themselves struggling to match the heights of their second season back in Serie A. Their 3-4-3 is horrendously outdated – even Alberto Zaccheroni, possibly the most notorious proponent of the system, decided after only a handful of games that it was not the way forward when he took charge of Juventus at for the second half of the season. When arguably the system’s biggest fan is refusing to implement it, you know there is something not quite right.
The issue for Genoa Coach Gian Piero Gasperini is that his team actually played very well against Chievo, and certainly did not deserve to lose the game, let alone by such a comprehensive scoreline. But they were tactically exploited, and the 90 minutes highlighted perfectly everything good (primarily going forward) and bad about the 3-4-3. They created numerous opportunities, and had they put them away would have continued their unbeaten start to the season, but they were also very open at the back – a natural consequence of both the formation and their expansive game. It was remarkably easy for Simone Bentivoglio to find space between the lines because the 3-4-3 makes it difficult for midfielders to cover the gaps. Sergio Pellissier and Davide Moscardelli prevented one of the three centre-backs stepping up from the back because of a natural desire to maintain the spare man against two strikers.
Rafinha and Domenico Criscito are an impressive pair of full-backs, but with Chievo content to raid down the centre, where they were outnumbering their opponents, the duo were left largely redundant defensively. The defence looks impressive on paper, but they were outmanoeuvred thanks to one system having a clear advantage over another. Contrast this with Week 1, where they faced an Udinese team set up in an almost identical fashion – a 3-4-3 – and Genoa were able to cope with the two sets of players cancelling each other out. They will not face Udinese every week, and with a resurgence of 4-3-1-2 systems across the Peninsula, Genoa may well face more trouble this season.
Chievo’s result was a rarity this week – an away win in Serie A. We have only seen two in 20 games so far, although that does not make Cesena’s home win against Milan any less surprising. Their well thought-out and clear 4-3-3 is incredibly refreshing, and while Milan dominated the game, it is difficult to argue against Cesena deserving something from the game. Their two wide players pose a problem that is not often faced by teams in Italy – genuine width from two traditional wingers, as opposed to strikers played in wide areas, or wing-backs from deep. Milan will not be the first to suffer at their hands, but the test will be whether they can remain effective as the season wears on, and as other Coaches get a chance to see more of them and perhaps begin to work them out.