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Thiago Motta's Bologna Are SURPRISING Everyone

4 minute read Published December 14, 2023

The Serie A top four looks kind of how you’d expect. Inter, Juventus, Milan and Roma have the Champions League spots, for now. On even points with Roma however, is a perennial mid to lower table team. Even Serie B team within the last decade. Bologna.

Team GP GF GA Pts
Inter 15 37 7 38
Juventus 15 23 9 36
Milan 15 26 18 29
Roma 15 28 17 25
Bologna 15 18 12 25

Thiago Motta ended his playing career at PSG in 2018 and was immediately hired as a coach for the Parisian U19 team, a position he held for two years. In 2020 Genoa approached Motta as head coach. At that point the club were second to last in the Serie A, only getting five points in eight games. Motta… well he didn’t do much better. Genoa gave him the sack after only two months and he left the club in 20th. Dead last. 

Despite that record, Spezia, the Ligurian club that had secured their first ever promotion to the Serie A just the previous season, hired Motta. This time, he managed to last the entire season and managed to avoid relegation by finishing 16th. Which is when the club decided to move on to another coach.

With that in mind, in 2022, when Sinisa Mihajlovic failed to win in the first five games of last season, it came as a bit of a surprise when Bologna approached Motta for the head coaching job. In his first season, despite the horrible start, Bologna finished ninth.

Motta Stays the Summer

For the first time, Motta got to stay over a transfer window and got to spend pre-season with the team. And now they’re flying.

In the summer, the club had its second biggest spending transfer window ever, however that still only puts them at seventh highest spender in the Serie A this summer. Two players were brought in from AZ Alkmaar - Jesper Karlsson, their biggest transfer of the window, at €11 million, and Sam Beukema. Another notable signing was Dan Ndoye, who’s played every single minute of league football so far. Their biggest signing of the season, Karlsson, has been struggling to establish himself in the first team so far, and, lately, has been out injured with a knee issue.

Motta has a very flexible approach to how he sets up his team. So far this season the starting formation has varied between 4-1-3-2, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. Depending on opposition and what players have been available, Motta chooses to set his team and players up for the best performance in that game specifically, rather than sticking with a system and playing players out of position (take notes, Ten Hag).

They play a possession based game, with a slow build up and patient passing to find the right attacking opportunity, as displayed by this graph.

Key Players

Defensively, Bologna have been very solid this season. In the first 15 games they’ve only allowed 12 goals making them the third most successful defensively in the league.

Offensively, Bologna have been missing their top scorer Riccardo Orsini through injury as well as their second top scorer from last season, Arnautovic, who’s on a season long loan at Inter. It does show in the teams offensive performance as they’ve only scored the tenth most goals this season. 

In that, somewhat lacking, offence Lewis Ferguson has been instrumental, getting 5 goal contributions in 15 games. The 24 year old Scotsman joined Bologna from Aberdeen last summer and has really come into his own as the creative player in offence. Together with Joshua Zirkzee, who’s taken on the role of top scorer this season, they’ve been involved in more than 70% of the Bolognese (yum) club’s goals.

And mentioned, Ndoye has been playing a lot and looking at stats it’s easy to see why and what Motta wants out of him. He moves the ball forward. He’s the player in Serie A that progresses the ball the most metres every time he has it. 

Final Thoughts

Mottas Bologna has been the surprise performance of the Serie A so far. They play a practical typ of football with a focus on possession and patience. 

Defensively, they’re one of the most accomplished in the league, so far. Offensively however, they are lacking a bit. Their top goal scorer of last season has been missing half the season through injury and their second top goalscorer is no longer at the club. 

If Bologna are able to keep up their defensive performances when Orsini comes back into the team, they have a very good chance at challenging for the European spots, possibly even the Champions League. But with Napoli, Roma and Milan also hungry for top four and 23 games still remaining of the season, there’s a very long way to go.

The biggest risk for the Italian club is that they lose Motta. PSG and Inter Milan are both said to be circling the coach in the event that their performances turn sour. But for now they're both doing really well.

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