Square pegs in round holes for Ballardini

Davide Ballardini’s record since taking over at Genoa in early November is not at all shabby – three wins from six games is just as many as predecessor Gian Piero Gasperini managed from his 10 at the start of the season, and two losses to second place Juventus and third place Napoli are nothing to be ashamed of. He was an unspectacular appointment, having achieved nothing in his coaching career to date, but his primary impact has been making the team tougher to beat, and you only do that by shoring up the defence.
Three clean sheets is testament to the work he has done, but also to the fact that all that needed changing was the shape. Moving to a conventional flat back four is something Genoa have been crying out for since the rest of Serie A figured out how to counter their 3-4-3, and Ballardini’s 4-3-1-2 has acted as welcome relief for the defence. Yet despite the early success in this area of the pitch, he has yet to solve the issues at the other end.
13 goals in 16 games is a measly return, and for all the efforts spent in keeping three clean sheets, they have also drawn a blank in three matches. It will take time and a bit of support in the transfer window to rectify this problem. Having used the 3-4-3 for such a long time, the squad has been suitably tailored to this formation. This means Ballardini has an abundance of wide players that are not necessary for a system that only uses full-backs for width, and more central defensive options (six in the squad can play there) than are required for a formation that only needs two for any given starting XI. In short, the squad is unbalanced, and although it is sometimes useful to have so much depth in certain areas, it is hurting him in midfield.
There are only four genuine central midfield players in the squad and as such, it is leading to some very strange selections when it comes to filling this area of the pitch. Captain Marco Rossi has found himself take up one of these roles, but his natural inclination as a wide player means he has little interest in fortifying the middle of the pitch when in possession. The 1-0 defeat against Napoli at the weekend is a perfect example – instead of getting into the box, he runs wide.
With Omar Milanetto tasked with protecting the defence and Miguel Veloso as the more creative force, this is not a great use of his energy when his team cannot hit the back of the net. The dearth of central midfielders has led to the tragic sight of the immensely talented full-back Rafinha wasted in this position (Gasperini was also guilty of this) in what appears to be a desperate attempt to formulate a quick-fix. He has no experience whatsoever in the middle, not even during his time at Coritiba in Brazil, and has only played a handful of games at right-midfield with no great effect.
As if to complete the unbalance, Ballardini has no less than seven strikers at his disposal, which makes it even more remarkable that the team struggle to score, but without the quality from the midfield the strikers are not going to receive the service they need and sustained pressure cannot be placed on the opposition. The squad needs to be remodelled with players who fit Ballardini’s philosophy, and for that he will require patience from President Enrico Preziosi, as well as considerable backing in January.

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