Monday October 1 2018
Semplici's SPAL still gestating

SPAL survived the threat of relegation last season and started this campaign on stunning form, so Tom Scholes analyses Leonardo Semplici's side.

After picking up three wins in their final four Serie A matches last season, SPAL managed to survive in Italy’s top flight and Leonardo Semplici was rewarded with a new contract. Nonetheless, few could’ve expected such a sensational start to this campaign.

The Spallini opened up with a 1-0 Coppa Italia trip to Spezia and carried on their flat 3-5-2 formation, with Francesco Vicari playing alongside the more experienced duo of Felipe and Thiago Cionek. The defensive security at the back allowed wide men Manuel Lazzari and Mohamed Fares to go forward a bit more, with top signing Andrea Petagna partnering veteran Mirco Antenucci.

SPAL weathered an early Bologna storm in their Serie A debut and took control of the possession of the game, creating chances and eventually scored when summer recruit Jasmin Kurtic fired in a beautiful strike from around 30 yards out.

The result may only have been 1-0, but it showed that SPAL look a much better team on the ball now and confident in possession. That being said, there were a few occasions where Petagna and Antenucci should have scored more, or at least created more chances for one another, but it was almost forgotten about due to the victory. The build-up play in the middle of the park from SPAL was fun to watch, but the strikers needed to do a bit more to put the game well out of Bologna’s reach.

Next up was Parma. SPAL would go on to win 1-0 again in perhaps only their first of two games this season where chance creation wasn’t a problem. But while there were a lot of positives to take from this match, it also showed a few negatives that would come to haunt SPAL in the weeks to come. They created 16 chances against Parma, but only had six on target, one of which being the goal. They had more of the ball, but couldn’t convert some chances that maybe, on another day, they should have.

The very next week against Torino, these negatives started to show again. SPAL lost 1-0, had less of the ball and only had one shot on target (creating only six chances). It was a poor showing in terrible conditions, but against teams that are confident and calm on the ball, SPAL struggle to impose themselves. An impressive 2-0 win at home to Atalanta would follow where SPAL looked stronger on and off the ball, but the problems would show themselves again.

Against Bologna and Parma, SPAL proved that they are good on the ball against teams on their level, but when facing the likes of Fiorentina, they’re always going to struggle. The pace of the Fiorentina wide players was just too much for the defence, and they ended up losing 3-0. Hardly any chances that should have been goals, a leaky backline and it was always going to spell trouble.

Another 2-0 loss to Sassuolo followed, but this time at home where they once again failed to create much and let Sassuolo have three relatively easy points.

The strong start to the campaign was very promising. SPAL had a confidence about them, and while a strong start is always key, it’s a bonus to keep it going and to show your might against tougher opponents. Unfortunately, they just sometimes lack a bit of cutting edge. Against Torino, Fiorentina and Sassuolo, they didn’t create enough chances and failed to take advantage of most opportunities they did create against Bologna and Parma.

Their trip to Sampdoria on Monday night is now not only an important game in terms of stopping a poor run of form, but also in how they play against a tough opponent in hostile conditions. They won’t be expected to dominate the ball, but can SPAL play on the counter-attack? Will it be another leaky performance, or can they change their style? The two strikers need to be involved a bit more, there need to be more chances created. Can they do it? If they want to keep up their great start to the season, they need to.

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