Roma 2-0 Fiorentina | A match that was about discipline and pressing culminated in the home side grapping their first 3 points of the Serie A 2014/15 season. With the result, Vincenzo Montella’s record in the Olympico as a coach reads an uninspiring 8 matches, 0 wins, 2 draws and 6 losses.
Roma: De Sanctis, Torosidis, Manolas ( Keita 67′), Astori, Cole, De Rossi, Pjanic, Nainggolan, Iturbe (Ljajic 77′), Totti (Florenzi 70′), Gervinho
Fiorentina: Neto, Tomovic, Rodriguez, Savic, Alonso, Brillante ( Ilicic 27′) , Pizarro, Vargas (Aquilani 72′), Valero, Babacar (Joeaquin 63′), Gomez
Goals: Nainggolan 28′, Gervinho 90′
Fiorentina’s surprises in the line-up
Vincenzo Montella’s side wasn’t exactly what many expected. Brillante made his debut on the right of midfield, Alonso played in the left full-back position over Pasqual and Pizzaro played his usual holding role although Montella himself insisted before the match that David Pizzaro is not fully fit.
Meanwhile, Tomovic a center back played in the right-back position replacing the injured Facundo Roncaglia . There were limitations for Montella as he forced to pick players according to their fitness levels. He missed the services of Giuseppe Rossi to yet another injury while Juan Cuadrado was suspended.
Alberto Aquilani surprisingly was on the bench for the match considering the worries regarding Pizzaro’s fitness levels. He was expected to play in his role or at least alongside him in midfield but Montella chose Brillante to be in his side, not a masterstroke in hindsight as he was replaced after just half an hour.
Formation theory and reality
4-3-3 vs 4-3-1-2 is always interesting as a tactical battle. The Fiorentina side is always recognized playing in a broad 4-2-3-1 but the changes before the match indicated that Montella was thinking about containing the Roma side and depriving them of space rather than playing in their usual way of passing and attack minded football.
So he was set up with 4 midfielders- one holding player , two shuttlers and one trequartista attempting to make things congested thereby interrupting Roma’s passing rhythm as the two strikers tended to press high up the pitch in addition to providing a physical presence and a focal point for midfield players to play long balls.
In reality however, this was far from what it was expected to be. The two strikers were isolated upfront without any service as the long balls approach failed to make an impact on their game as Roma defenders were comfortable in dealing with it . They also sat back too deep waiting for Roma players to come at them which suited Roma’s passing style and made it very easy for them to pass the ball from deep areas of midfield without any pressure.
Things were even worse when they tried to go forward as they played very narrow failing to utilize the flanks and concentrated only on coming inside.
The home side were playing their usual football with short, neat and patient passes waiting for spaces to be exploited. Their full-backs (Torosidis particularly) ventured forward and stretched the active area of play with the wingers drifting inside and linking up with Totti.
The midfield trio of De Rossi , Pjanic and Nainggolan were controlling the midfield well with De Rossi dropping very deep when in possession spreading the play to the flanks and to midfielders and in general controlling the tempo of the game. He was also covering for his full-backs as they were pushing forward. The picture below illustrates the balls intercepted by De Rossi which show distinctively the role of covering for the fullbacks.
4 interceptions on the right demonstrates two important things : 1) Fiorentina were more dangerous down the right. 2) Torosidis was the one who played forward for most of the time not worried about his area because he knew that someone was there to cover for him.
Pjanic and Nainggolan weren’t afraid of joining the attack going to the flanks and making triangles with their respective winger and fullback ( Pjanic to the right and Nainggolan to the left) doubling up against Fiorentina’s fullbacks and midfielders and opening the channels for incisive play behind the defense.
Most of the advanced Roma players drifted to the right side as shown above (Pjanic , Iturbe , Totti and Torosidis) while Gervinho combined with them from his left wing position as he cut inside more often. That overloading of players to the right made Roma very dangerous in that position. Fiorentina were very comfortable enough though as they had Vargas who was a left fullback essentially deployed as a left sided midfielder recently because of his pace and shooting ability.
In the picture above which describes the positional pattern of Fiorentina players it is obvious that seven players were defending which was very clear in the first half, even if the names of the fullbacks were omitted we could say that Vargas and Brillante are the fullbacks, which sums up the conservative approach Montella’s side adopted.
The notable feature of Roma’s play however was their high intense pressing from advanced positions that made it very difficult for the Fiorentina players to pass the ball in midfield. Pjanic was always close to Pizzaro with Nainggolan pressing on Brillante so Vargas was always free in midfield although every time he took the ball Torosidis was getting ahead of him.
So it wasn’t a surprise that Roma’s first goal came from a mistake from Brillante as he gave it away to Nainggolan who ran into the huge space in midfield as the whole midfield was caught out of position. One of the defenders had to come out to meet him and this created space for Gervinho to run into and shoot which was saved by Neto and Nainggolan put away the rebound. A goal that he truly deserved.
Montella made a change right away in the 29th minute taking Brillante out and Ilicic in so Valero became the right midfielder and Ilicic playing in the trequartista role.
But Roma continued their style of play for the rest of the first half dominating the game while Montella’s men struggled and actually were lucky to concede only one goal.
It was totally a different contest here. Roma dropped very deep playing only on the counterattack whilst Fiorentina found some bravery and played further forward.
Full-backs stared to push forward and midfielders took command of the middle area passing the ball patiently and became more dangerous in some situations. They managed to create real chances forcing De Sanctis into some good saves .
The key behind that was Vargas on the left side. He combined well with Alonso and swung some good crosses in, but the right flank failed to mirror this partly because of right midfielder Borja Valero drifting to the middle more often and partly because of Nenad Tomovic. He wasn’t really good at playing in the full-back position offensively at least, so Fiorentina side were very narrow and depending only on the left side for width. That’s why Montella introduced Joaquin for Babacar and went on the offensive with a 4-3-3 with Ilicic going to the right and Joaquin to the left stretching Roma’s defense. Although I would argue the decision to substitute Babacar who did a decent job inside the box unlike Gomez who was totally absent in the game but possibly Montella was thinking of a direct approach for the last 25 minutes relying on crossing and long balls. Thus Gomez would be an appropriate option here. He didn’t influence the game though.
Garcia noticed the threat and how Fiorentina grew into the game and how they became very dangerous when in possession, so he dropped in Seydou Keita for Manolas so De Rossi became the right centre back and Keita played in the holding role. 6 minutes later Florenzi came on for Totti, who is an energetic player highly aware of his defensive duties providing good cover for his fullback. Lastly Ljajic came on for Iturbe and Roma were now retaining possession in non threatening areas and pressing very effectively without the ball.
Montella surprisingly took Vargas off and introduced Alberto Aquiliani, although he did well in the midfield, Fiorentina were less threatening after Vargas’ departure because he was providing running and crossing down the left flank something they needed in the last minutes of the game. Roma took advantage of that becoming more direct when they got the ball as spaces were very open late on and Nainggolan capped off an excellent performance with a through ball behind the defense that found Gervinho who finished it well.
Where does this leave them?
Of course no one will talk about the table position right now since we’re in the first round of the season but the real question about Fiorentina is how can they cope while playing against “big teams” without having a destroyer in midfield covering the defense. Pizzaro is a good player as a regista but defensively he needs some support, with one day left for the negotiations to close in Italy many names have been suggested but nothing practically having reached .
After the match Montella was asked about his side’s title chances and he responded “We’re far from Juventus and Roma in terms of quality and quantity “. It could be harsh on Fiorentina fans as they raised their expectations after knowing that Juan Cuadrado will stay at Florence but to be honest his answer seems logical.
Garcia praised his team after the match for their performances and declaring that he told his side to drop deep in the second half because of the intense pressing that they were doing in the first half, so he was concerned about tiredness in the last minutes of the game that’s why they change their approach.
What his side missed is good finishing , they’re a good side in creating chances in open play but they need to show some ruthlessness in front of the goal considering that you will never be sure that one goal is going to be enough for winning.
Written by Faisal Al-Mutairi
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