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  • Writer's pictureMilton Ceita Da Costa

Massimiliano Allegri - Coverciano Thesis 2004/2005

Hello all!

With renewed interest in the famed Italian coaching academy in Coverciano (Centro Tecnico Federale di Coverciano) due to Andrea Pirlo's thesis recently being released, we have decided to take a look at some of those theses*.

This does not include an analysis of the thesis but instead just our interpretation. Our own explanations or interpretations are in blue.

First up, former Juventus and AC Milan manager, Massimiliano Allegri.

*With all these theses, the translations are far from perfect but we tried to ensure the coach's meaning was kept while making it readily accessible and understandable.

1. Introduction

Modern football has given way to many various game models which are structured with the physical, technical and psychological qualities of the players at the coach’s disposal.

I will explore a few systems centered on the midfielders but I will not delve into systems to be adopted in relation to the opposition characteristics as this would go too far I the study and past the task I have set.

The past year (the 2004/2005 season) was my second as a coach. I made a system choice out of necessity because I did not know all the qualities of the individual players that the club, SPAL, had provided me ; in fact, I joined the team just a day before they were to leave for break.

I thus needed to take time before choosing the system, so as to make the most of the players’ individual potential as I got to know them.

At first, I planned on adopting a 4-4-2, a system that ensures at minimum at good defensive structure ; then due to a limited squad and various injures, we moved on to a 4-3-3 (see Fig. 1).

We played in this system for the first eight games ; I later changed the structure in the middle. Instead of playing with a deep regista (‘deep pivot’) (Fig. 1), I inverted the triangle and made the team play with two screening midfielders and a trequartista (‘advanced playmaker’) (see Fig. 2 below), while constantly maintaining, in attack, two wide players and a central striker and four-player defense.

2. The Requirements of the Central Midfielders

The technical and tactical qualities of the three midfielders must be very different, depending on whether the team plays with a deep-lying regista #4 screening the defense with two central midfielders ahead, #8 and #10 (Fig. 1) or with two screening midfielders, #4 and #8, in front of the defense, with the trequartista #10 in front of those two midfielders (Fig. 2).

I will start by discussing the unique abilities and tasks of the individual players (the midfielders), then I will move onto the advantages and disadvantages encountered when the team is in and out of possession.

2.1 Triangle with the Pivot at the Bottom (Deep Pivot)

Let's look at the player abilities required when playing with a deep pivot.

Midfielder screening the defense, No. 4 ("regista), ideally posses

- great authority, to be able to guide the two midfielders : #10 and #8 when not in possession and the three men attack #7, #9, #11.


When opposing teams starts their action, the #4 must give the correct timing to the outer forwards, #7, #11 and to the 2 CM’s #8 and #10 by closing space forward. At the same time, the #9 goes to close the possibility of backward transition from D to C.

Important : when the action is terminated, the deep regista must draw the two midfielders and three strikers at once to get into the right positions in order to organize the recapturing of the ball.

In cases in which our 3 forwards are cut off from the ball recovery phase, and the attack is from the flanks our midfielders and defenders must react like this :

  1. Do not unbalance completely but instead slow the opposition progression

  2. The #8 (CM) goes wide, the #4 takes the *8 spot and the #10 (other CM) drops and tucks in to take the #4 spot

In a situation in which the attack is central and our 3 forwards have been bypassed :

  1. Do not unbalance completely but instead slow the opposition progression

  2. #4 (deep regista) must shadow ball carrier zone (so cover beneath first midfield line), and call over #8 (CM) to provide cover. The defenders stay tight.

The #4, regista, must also have

  • good technique to dictate the tempo and control the game

  • Excellent tactical positioning sense. Ability to find himself unmarked to offer solutions to teammates.

  • Transitional sense. Able to find a quick solution at ball recovery, often to switch the point of attack. Be aggressive in defense in ball loss and in counter-press

Must know how to position themselves vertically. Must never lose position that way they can constantly offer a screening presence to the four defenders, stopping vertical or intruding diagonal play by opposition passes or runners.

An excellent positional sense thus appears to be the most important unique quality to a player with such tasks.

This player’s offensive contributions will be few, well-thought and well-executed so as not to leave this central area unguarded.

They provide balance in the nervous system of the game : center of the field.

The 2 CM’s (#8 and #10) must be good, intelligent runners because with 1 striker and 2 wingers, they will need to make runs w/out ball into the final area.

The timing of these runs is important in order to finish off a move (passing move, cross), or shoot from distance.

Usually one of the 2 CM’s (traditionally the #10) must :

  • be able to create numerical superiority by dribbling

  • Be able to execute the last step of the move

  • Be able to shoot from distance

  • Be able to create a solution vertically (dribbling or passing) to place the 3 attackers in a position to score

Unlike the #10, the #8 must

  • possess more tactical quality

  • Provide more help to the midfield

  • Work more when the team is not in possession

  • Help the regista give balance to the team and retrieve balls from opposition

Although the #8's have minor technical qualities in comparison to the #10’s, they must be able to accompany the action and then provide end product (shot from distance. The #8’s should also be headers of the ball and strong physically.

2.2 Triangle with Pivot at the Top (High Pivot)

In this configuration, the characteristics are completely different from the ones mentioned in the reverse triangle.

The two sitting midfielders are fundamental to the balance of the team.

They should never leave the central area of the field. They should always accompany the action but should never be above the line of the ball, in attack but especially in defense.

One of the two must be have the qualities of a regista in such a way as to be able to act as a reference point to the four defenders in the build-up phase.

The other must be highly dynamic, quick and a good header. These players used to be known as “cursori di centrocampo”. Likely akin to box-to-box midfielders.

These 2 midfielder shave the task of protecting the defense when the team is not on the ball, to give balance to the team and always to be in support of the attacking midfielder #10 and the 3 attackers.

Two examples :

In this scenario, the #7 has been eliminated from the action. Our first objective the six defending players (defenders and two screening midfielders) is to heavily unbalance themselves, to slow down the opposition advance, to block off direct access to our goal and to not give up depth to the opposition.

The #4 comes out to close the opposition #3, the #8 slides to cover for the #4 and the #10 takes up the left infield half space. The #4 does not have to completely de-zone, as the #7 will be hustling to get back to double the opposition #3. #2, in this case, can’t go and press because it must mark the opposition #10.

In a situation almost similar to the previous one :

Here, the the opposition #10, cutting in, our #2 comes out to close down the opposition #3, stalling them. Our #34 comes over to double the opposition #3 and our #8 takes up the low pivot position (the screen in front of the defense).

Our playmaking #10 has the task of controlling the opposition playmaker and a few other minor defensive duties.

They must :

  • Always be unmarked and act as a reference point in our attack, giving support to our two screening midfielders and, when necessary, to our four defenders

  • Move around especially in the intermediate zone between the opposition defenders and midfielders

  • Possess good technique and dribbling ability to create numerical superiority

  • Know how to “verticalize” (play direct, play the ‘killer’ ball) the game (this is the last step of our attack)

  • Have a good shot

  • Have the right timing of passes

3. The 4-3-3 with Low Pivot

The following will explain, in my opinion, the advantages of the 4-3-3 with a low pivot when the team is in possession as opposed to a 4-3-3 with a high pivot.

When playing with a low pivot and two CM’s, there are far more offensive solutions. There are more players in the ball area in this scenario. When we recover the ball there are more solutions as well. There are more options going inwards and outwards with the two midfielders.

Examples :

  1. Objective : wide player on opposite flank of ball cuts in, plus the opposite side midfielder drifts into the half-space

Ball is played into #7 who plays diagonally to #9 who in turns drops it off to the #10 who makes a final pass to either the #8 or the #11 who make runs in from behind to finish off the play

2) Objective : to reach the #10 or the midfielder in opposite half-space or the wide player in the opposite flank

Ball is with #11. #11 plays to #9 who checks into space. #9 plays to #10, who is making a run from deep, to complete the triangle.

This will lead to a far side finish by #7, # 8 or even the #10 if the ball starts from the far side (with the #7, #9 and #8 instead of #11, #9 and #10).

3) #2 begins with the ball and plays into #4. #4 plays a vertical ball to #9, who now has 3 possible solutions :

3a : Objective : play #8 directly onto goal

3b: lay the ball off to #7 who, in turn, will play the #8 (continuing their run) through who can then cross into the box

3c: go direct and for #10 and #11

At the same time, the #2, #3, #5, #6, #4 and the #7, when not directly involved, accompany myth action. But all of this is done while remaining behind the ball line in order to cover any counterattacks.

In the offensive phase, this system requires that the three forward plus one of the two midfielders attack while the four defenders, the screening midfielder and the other midfielder, as explained above, stay (almost) behind the ball line.

The fullbacks join during the construction phase and only overlap infrequently.

It takes time to find the correct balance in midfield, the nervous center of the system, both for offensive and defensive development and execution. The two midfielders ahead of the #4 deep-lying midfielder must appropriately coordinate their movements by alternating their entries into the offensive structure so as not to leave the #4 alone in midfield.

4. The 4-3-3 with a High Pivot

This system has more defensive benefits in comparison to the 4-3-3 with a low pivot as it offers greater balance in the back because the two screening midfielders, #4 and #8, are predominantly stationed in front of the back four, to constantly ensure a screening presence.

In this case however, with less offensive numbers in midfield, it it often necessary to use one of the two fullbacks.

This system will be more effective against a compact team; our two wide players drop deeper to aid in the construction phase and so the fullbacks have space and opportunities to penetrate or go around the compact team.

Possible solutions :

  1. Objective : build up play on one side to then switch to the opposite fullback who can then cross :

Ball starts with #3 who plays to #8 who has dropped into space. #8 gives the ball to the #7 who has in turn dropped and drifted into the middle. #7 plays into #10. #2 is overlapping on the right side and receives a through ball from the #10. #2 can now cross to #9 or #11 or even cut back to #10 who has made a run towards the goal.

2) The same action can obviously be done on the opposite side, starting with #2, then #4, #11, #10 (the link), and finally to #3 who has travelled up the line.

3) Objective: Play high-low to then play into an out-in run by a wide forward

Ball starts with #2 who plays to #9 who has dropped into space. #9 lays off to a ready #10 who then plays an inside vertical pass to a cutting wide player, #11 or #7.

4) Prepare the overlap by the #3

Ball begins with #5 who plays into a descended and wide #7. #7 plays into #4 who advances from the midfield. #4 then platys the ball across to #11 who moves inward to receive the ball and thus leaving space for #3 to advance down the flank. #11 plays the ball to #8 who then plays the ball forward to #3 who is overlapping on the left flank. #9, #10 and #7 are prepping to preparing to receive the ball while #11 lingers outside the box.


And that concludes our interpretation of Massimiliano Allegri's 2005 Coverciano thesis paper.

The original document can be found on the Italian Federation website or otherwise through this link :

We do not in any way claim ownership of this property. This document has been interpreted in a way we feel best encapsulates Mr. Allegri's thesis.


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