Buidling Dreams Together


Bologna continue incredible 23/24 season

With sides such as Aston Villa, Girona and VFB Stuttgart having amazing underdog stories of their own, Bologna’s ascent towards the top four in Serie A has largely gone unnoticed.

Thiago Motta’s side currently sit fifth in the table, level on points with fourth placed Atalanta. To many fans this may seem like an overperformance, however they play swashbuckling attacking football and have a clear well laid out recruitment policy.

Bologna, one of the traditional teams in Italian football, unfortunately always seem far below the biggest teams in the county in terms of quality. This term that myth has been laid to rest as they have taken points off all teams in the top half of the table this season.

This has included convincing victories over Lazio, Fiorentina, Roma, and Atalanta as well as a cup victory over the irrepressible Inter Milan. So just why has this club suddenly risen from their ruins to compete at such high levels?

The recruitment:

In the summer hugely influential players such as Jerdy Schouten, Nicolas Dominguez, Musa Barrow, Gary Medel and Roberto Soriano all left. This could have been the cause of a major downfall but instead the boardroom at the club has reinvested that money wisely so far.

In the summer came in a crop of young players looking to make an immediate impression on the first team. These names included Riccardo Calafiori, Giovanni Fabbian, Dan Ndoye and Oussama El Azzouzi. 

All of these players have been staples in Thiago Motta’s fluid 4-2-3-1 system with Calafiori being especially impressive as a left sided centre back. His reading of the game has been impeccable and his calmness under pressure has been a hallmark of Bologna’s confidence this season.

It is testament to the coaching staff at the club that this crop of youngsters have played to such a high level as for many of them it is the first time they have played consistently. 

It is not just young players the Rossoblu have invested in though. Remo Freuler, Jens Odgaard, Alexis Saelemaekers and Stefan Posch have been brought in to add experience and depth to the team as well.

Calafiori in action

It is quite clear when glancing over the teams Bologna have negotiated with, that they have a large scouting network which has recently worked wonders. These teams include Dinamo Moscow, Partizan Belgrade, Basel, AZ Alkmaar and Union St Gilloise. 

You would struggle to find another European Club who draws its players from such a variety of leagues and cultures all across Europe.

This progressive style of recruiting players has allowed Motta to instil his style of play on the players with very few qualms, which has also facilitated a feel good factor within the camp throughout the season.

This smart use of the transfer market has meant they have only had a £35 million balance, which is surely a price most clubs would pay to play in the sacred Champions League. 

The coach and style of play:

Legendary Italian defensive midfielder Thiago Motta arrived at Bologna in 2022 after a successful period at minnows Spezia. His appointment though was met with an underwhelming reaction from the fans, this has been disproved since.

In his coaching licence dissertation he was famed for saying that the best formation was 2-7-2 and although fans have been disappointed not to see this in action, he has instilled an entertaining style of play at Bologna.

Firstly, Motta prefers to keep the ball on the ground and play out from the back through the thirds. With El Azzouzi or Freuler sitting in midfield, they act as the pivot players who are tasked with progressing the ball. 

Thiago Motta inspiring from the sidelines. Credit: Football Italia

Meanwhile the usual striker, Joshua Zirkee, has the freedom to drop deep and act as a false nine. His on the ball ability means that space is created for runners either side of his as well as down the centre which can confuse opposition defences. 

On the left hand side the winger usually comes inside to link with the all encompassing Lewis Ferguson, while Ricardo Orsolini on the right prefers to hug the touchline and cut inside with the ball at his feet.

This aspect of Orsolini’s play has been especially prevalent with a host of goals coming from his speed and skill down the right. 

Therefore, in attacking motion, Bologna lineup as a 4-1-5 which puts so much pressure on the opposition that they usually fold and give up space in one way or another. 

Meanwhile when defending, due to Motta having a young team they have the ability to constantly press, winning the ball back high up the pitch or from knock downs when their opponents ultimately choose going long is the best form of action. 

Key Player, Joshua Zirkzee:

Although Orsolini and Fergurson deserve to be pointed out, without Zirkzee leading the frontline it is hard to imagine that Bologna would be in the same position that they are.

After bursting onto the scene with Bayern Munich, he struggled on loan at both Parma and Anderlecht. Since his move back to Italy ahead of last season though he has been a roaring success. 

The Netherlands forward seems to have it all, whether that is finishing, dribbling, link-up play or playing as a traditional number nine. These attributes have made him undroppable for Motta, with 24 league appearances to his name so far. 

Motta has been rewarded for keeping faith with Zirkzee as he has produced nine goals and four assists which are outstanding numbers for a 22-year-old in an overly defensive Serie A.

When watching the forward, he looks to play in a very languid, almost slow motion style but that is because he is always a couple of steps ahead of his opponents. It always seems as if he was all the space in the world, because he is so difficult to come to terms with for his marking centre back.

He almost plays in the style of Harry Kane, dropping deep to dictate play then arriving in the box to finish off what he started. This ability brings others into play, confuses defenders and leaves space for the roaming midfield duo of Fergurson and Michel Aebischer.

It is no wonder that the forward is now being linked with a move away from the Stadio Dall’Ara, Premier League big boys Tottenham and Manchester United reportedly interested.

If Bologna can continue to defy the odds and out play opponents, Europa League or even Champions League football will be waiting for them, a huge achievement that could spark further success.

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