Weekend Debrief: Smalling an outside shout for England


Tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks. 

Weekend Debrief: 4th November 2019

Chris Smalling for England?

Since moving to Roma from Manchester United in the summer on-loan, Chris Smalling has been impressing for Paulo Fonseca’s side in Serie A.

Following defeat to Atalanta in his opening game where he was unfortunate to be on the losing side, the Giallorossi are yet to be defeated when the English defender has started. Eye-catching performances against Udinese and Napoli in the past week has certainly intensified media attention on his spell abroad, and may also have caught Gareth Southgate’s notice.

With centre backs Michael Keane and Joe Gomez struggling for form and game time respectively, could there be a way back in for Smalling? Playing as part of a back three, he has shown strong awareness to read the game and his pace at the back has allowed Roma to play a high line and look to control the game.

Offered further defensive support by playing in a back three, Smalling could add depth and a different option to Southgate’s current options, and his statistics are also impressive.

In seven games this season, he is averaging 1.3 interceptions, 4.7 clearances and 1.3 blocks, reinforcing his ability to read the game and help Roma play their high line. He has shown his strong aerial ability, winning an average of 4.9 aerials, but his passing numbers are what stand out the most, and would be suited to Southgate’s preference to play out from the back.

Averaging 50.6 passes at 90.7% completion, Smalling has shown he his both comfortable and competent on the ball, and would suit England’s approach.

Although not necessarily a standout option as a starter for the Three Lions, the Roma man could add depth to a defence which has shown frailties in games against Kosovo and Czech Republic, and it would certainly not be a surprise to see him given a chance in the upcoming fixtures.

Priced at 25/1 (BetVictor), it is a big ask to see him selected, but if he continues to impress in Italy, there could be some value in such a big price to be included in the Euro 2020 squad, especially with the concerning form of Keane, and any injuries to those currently ahead of him in the pecking order.

Bologna goals to flow

Languishing in 13th in Serie A, Bologna are certainly a side to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. They were beaten by a resurgent Inter Milan on Saturday, however there are enough positive signs to suggest the form should continue to improve.

Their underlying numbers suggest that Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men have been unlucky both in front of goal and at the back. Their Expected Goals (xG) output of 21.40 ranks them fifth, and they are underperforming this by only netting 15 goals. This, coupled with a defence that has an xGa of 12.03, despite conceding 17, suggest things should improve.

Factoring in the strikers who are underperforming is also important, and in Federico Santander, Nicola Sansone and Riccardo Orsolini, who are all massively below their xG, they do possess forwards who have the class to improve.

Sansone (4.26 xG), Orsolini (3.69 xG) and Santander (2.87 xG) have only netted four goals between them, as experienced striker Rodrigo Palacio has been relied upon with three, and is the only striker roughly in line with his xG (3.24)

If they are to continue to find themselves in scoring positions, and the creative midfielders continue to provide at the rate they are, they should quickly improve, particularly when looking ahead to their next fixtures.

Orsolini has an Expected Assists (xA) tally of 4.24 over the course of the season, whilst in Roberto Soriano they have a classy creative midfielder who has represented Italy in the past.

Struggling Sassuolo and a home game against Parma offers Bologna the opportunity to rack up some goals moving forward, whilst their defensive numbers suggest they’ll offer a stern test against Napoli, Milan and Atalanta.

Certainly, a market to keep an eye on is the goalscoring markets, particularly of the Bologna strikers, as if they can continue to create at the rate they are going, their form should turn.

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