Just two (!) wins in 21 games. That was Bologna’s record under Filippo Inzaghi, before Super Pippo’s dismissal and the appointment of Sinisa Mihajlovic at the end of January.
Bologna looked dead and buried long before Inzaghi’s final game at the helm of the club - the embarassing 4-0 loss against fellow relegation battlers Frosinone. Injuries, lack of cohesion and poor form of key players plagued the legendary striker’s reign at the Stadio Dall’Ara, but Inzaghi’s inability to find the right tactical set-up and get the best out of his squad was arguably Bologna’s biggest issue at the time.
Unsurprisingly, the Emilia-Romagna based club spent almost the entire season in the relegation zone, looking far off reaching safety,especially considering the dull and uninspired performances that the players displayed week in and week out.
It wouldn’t be harsh to say that Bologna needed a miracle after that Frosinone defeat and a miracle is what they got, as Mihajlovic conquered the San Siro on his debut by beating Inter 1-0 thanks to Federico Santander’s header. The Rossoblu showedbravery, ability on the break and defensive solidity - all things that were missing prior to the Serbian’s arrival.
Despite the instant improvements, a winless run of four games scared the fans that the victoryagainst the Nerazzurri might’ve been a fluke, as Bologna drew against Genoa and registered narrow losses against Roma, Juventus and Udinese.
However, what followed afterwards is nothing short of sensational, as theRossoblu won six out of their last eight games, losing just one and registering five consecutive home victories. This is truly remarkable, considering that this is the same side that won just two of the opening 21 league games earlier in the season.
Mihajlovic’s ability to add creativity, speed and variety to the game of what already was a very physical side transformed Bologna into one of the most dangerous teams in Serie A. Taking a closer look to the methods that the former Torino tactician has used to achieve this, makes this turnaround even more intriguing, as Mihajlovic has largely stuckto Inzaghi’s 4-3-3 formation.
In fact the usage of Roberto Soriano in the middle of the park is arguably the biggest change formation-wise, as the freedom that the ex-Villarreal midfielder has been given plays a huge role in how Bologna is going forward.
This often reflects to a 4-2-3-1 formation, as Soriano occupies a more advanced role in comparison to the other midfielders and not only gives an option with an occasional long ball up front, but also creates openings in the opposition backline thanks to his smart movement off the ball.
It also allows the rest of the midfielders to move forward and pin the opposition in their own half, which gives Bologna the chance to control the tempo of the game thanks to Erick Pulgar’s good passing range.
Once the team is setup like this in the opposition’s half, it gives the chance to another January acquisition Nicola Sansone to get into better positions alongside Riccardo Orsolinito cause havoc. Both Sansone and Orsolini have the rare ability to whip in dangerous crosses or shoot with either foot, which adds the aforementioned variety to Bologna’s attack.
In fact Orsolini has shown exceptional growth, as the Juventus-owned prospect has now matched Federico Santander’s tally of six league goals and alongside the Paraguayan is Bologna’s joint top scorer this season. The 22-year-old has also registered four assistsand could arguably become Simone Verdi’s heir in terms of importance and creative prowess to the team, as he is the one who is closest to match the former captain’s tally of 10 goals and 10 assists last term.
Rodrigo Palacio has been another key figure, after shaking off the injuries that plagued his season. Despite turning 37 recently, the Argentinian often starts at heart of Bologna’s frontline and his neat dribbling skills, vision and instincts often create spaces.
Palacio’s return to form and Santander’s recent fitness issues resulted in the Paraguayan’s absence from the starting XI in recent weeks. However, his unmatched aerial presence gives Mihajlovic a valuable option from the bench and ability to change things up against different opponents.
In fact, unlike Inzaghi, Mihajlovic has managed to find the right formula and despite the short time he’s been in charge, he has shown enough know-how and bravery to change his approach when things are not going his way.
Mattia Destro’s two goals since the Serbian’s appointment are also proof of Mihajlovic’s impact and how he gets the best out of players who were out of shape or just did not perform under Inzaghi.
With just four games left until the end of the campaign, Bologna are currently sitting pretty in 14th spot and have a massive eight points lead over 18th placed Empoli, after beating the Azzurri last week. At this stage it seems unlikely, but after spending almost the entire campaign in the relegation zone, Mihajlovic’s men can even finish in the top half of the table.
However, it is clear that keeping their elite place for next season is the only goal for Bologna this term. With an ongoing project for renovating the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara and some serious investments in the January transfer window, relegation would’ve been a true disaster for the club.
Players, fans and staff should all take credit for the team’s remarkable revival, but there is little doubt that the main reason behind it is one man and his name is Sinisa Mihajlovic.