Almost nothing was known about Thiago Motta’s abilities, approach and style as a coach before he was hired by Genoa in late October. His coaching experience had come with the Paris Saint-Germain U19 side, and so it was hard not to think back to the kind of player he had been – elegant, technical, cerebral – and imagine how these attributes might translate to success on the bench.
Much was written about plans to revolutionise the game with a 2–7–2 formation but his more immediate priority was to sort out a defence that through eight matches had conceded 20 goals. In the four matches since taking charge, Genoa have conceded six times and on Sunday they earned their first clean sheet of the Motta era in a 0–0 draw with Napoli.
All this should serve as proof the former Italian international is more than up to the task of guiding this team and that his vision is already taking shape.
Just as important as the result in Naples was the way Genoa controlled the game for long stretches, dictating the play to an extent not many visitors to the Stadio San Paolo have managed. What stood out most was their confidence and composure on the ball under pressure and steady determination to play out from the back (indeed traits Motta the player embodied to the full).
Despite Ionut Radu having to make a few solid saves and one stunner in the Genoa net, the result was far from a fluke, as the coach himself summed up post match.
“We controlled the game and at times tried to slow the tempo, at others wanted to raise it and cause a great opponent problems,” Motta said. “At the end of the day I’m happy, because we could’ve scored right up to the end.”
Central to Genoa’s new approach is organisation through possession. Motta’s side has been out-possessed just once since he took over and even then were only slightly edged by Juventus in Turin in a game they were unlucky to lose. In their other three matches they have averaged over 60 percent and to achieve this, the coach has constructed his team around a role he knows well.
For all the talk of experimental formations, Motta’s Genoa have played essentially a 4–1–4–1 or 4–2–3–1 with Lasse Schone operating as a deep lying playmaker. In each of his last three outings the Dane has had more touches than anyone on the pitch for either side, averaging close to 100 in that span.
In addition to attractive football, this new setup has clearly had the calming, simplifying effect on the group as a whole Motta seems to be trying to impart.
Sunday’s match already has led to many assigning concern and blame to a Napoli side in the midst of an obvious rough patch. But that shouldn’t take away from Genoa’s performance and the belief Thiago Motta has instilled in his team since taking the helm.
It might not quite be the revolution some expected, but it’s more than clear the Rossoblu are headed in the right direction.