Tactical Analysis | Manchester City 1-1 Roma : Away side contain the 4-4-2

Manchester City 1 – 1 Roma | The world’s toughest club competition is only in its second match day, but things are already getting very tight. The Group of Death, containing CSKA, Bayern, Manchester City, and Roma, was, always going to be a very close one, but few expected there to be such high stakes, this early on. Going into the game, the English champions, City, needed to pick up 4 points over their 2 clashes with Rudi Garcia’s Roma in order to stake a strong claim for a spot in the next round of the competition. This was no easy task, as Roma came into the game in terrific form, with their last European outing being their thrashing of CSKA. Realistically, both sides were looking at second spot in the group behind the dominant Bayern Munich, and so the game was worth a lot.

City Roma

Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta; Kompany; Demichellis; Clichy; Jesus Navas; Y. Toure; Fernandinho; Silva; Aguero; Dzeko

Roma: Skorupski; Maicon; Manolas; Mapou; A. Cole; Pjanic; Keita; Nainggolan; Florenzi; Gervinho; Totti.

Goals: Aguero (p) 4′ // Totti 23′


City’s 4-4-2 ceding midfield to Roma

On the face of it, the home side looked well set-up, as they lined up with arguably their strongest 11, in their most destructive formation. A number of teams have borne the brunt of Manchester City in full flow, attacking with the likes of Jesus Navas, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. To be fair to them, 2 up top, and the attacking formation did give them a bit of an edge going forward, but crucially, especially for a European fixture against a team of the class of Roma, it cost them heavily. The trio in the opposition midfield were joined by the likes of Ashley Cole and Maicon getting high and providing width, and Francesco Totti dropping deep to create play, as they thoroughly dominated midfield in the first half. While Fernandinho put in an admirable effort, Toure’s efforts left a lot to be desired. The lack of defensive hustle from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero didn’t do much for them either, and the Roma midfielders regularly found themselves facing the opposition goal with time and space to play passes to runners.

The earliest warning sign for City came right after their goal, as their ex player Maicon, smashed the crossbar. The build up to the goal was also quite typical of what we’d see for the next hour or so, with good interplay between the midfielders leading to Francesco Totti dropping deep, collecting the ball, and chipping it behind a square defence for Maicon, who just happened to be 1 of a number of runners. It was almost the perfect ‘False 9’ goal, with no midfielders able to stop Totti, or even get close to him. When it wasn’t the legendary Italian, it was Miralem Pjanic who was pulling the strings, playing passes in behind the defence. Overall, Roma had the chance to make 10 through balls over the course of the game, which is quite a large number. Astoundingly, 7 of these even found their targets and led to chances for the visitors. Clearly, the City midfield and defence needed to do more to keep their goal intact.

Roma easily passing behind City's defence. via squawka.com

Roma easily passing behind City’s defence.
via squawka.com

All this changed after the introduction of the man that has become City’s super sub, Frank Lampard. The former Chelsea star came on close to the hour mark for Bosnian Dzeko, and changed the complexion of the game. Prior to his involvement, City were struggling to get a foothold on the game, and Roma were controlling it, on and off the ball. The likes of Toure, Dzeko, and Aguero weren’t doing enough to stop them playing from the back, and building their moves.

When Lampard came on for Dzeko, he immediately occupied a deeper role, and was in direct conflict with Seydou Keita. His energetic pressing allowed his midfield to join him, and the additional man in this region meant that City could press without fear of being caught on the break. This changed the complexion of the game completely, as City began to dominate possession, create chances and get behind the Roma defence. The Italians, on the other hand, struggled to recreate their fluid midfield play from the first half, due to the pressure on their midfielders, and dropped deeper and deeper. Of the 37 clearances that they affected over the course of the game, about 20 came in the final third of the match, as the calm passing was replaced by panicked clearances.

4-4-2 halting City’s press

While the 4-4-2 can be very effective going forward, with the opposition full backs forced to help out in the middle (as Roma’s did, defending only the width of the area), it can leave a side vulnerable at the back, especially due to the lack of a specialised holding midfielder. Generally, when City play this system in their domestic games, it doesn’t hurt them as their obvious quality shows, and powers them past teams. The Manchester City attack in flow is a joy to behold, and not many can stop them.

However, Roma are a quality team, with some very good moves up their sleeve, and some excellent and talented players to execute them. Early on in the game, City tried to press Roma in the early phases of the Italian side’s build up play, rather unsuccessfully. The attempt didn’t work out owing to the fact that Roma were able to bypass the press and get in behind the midfield, and to the defence quite easily on a number of occasions. Even Ashley Cole almost managed to get on the scoresheet in one such counter. The goal too, came from one of these quick break.

In response to the pressing from City, Roma simply played a more direct type of football, with quick vertical passes to try and get at and behind the defence. The goal, for example, saw a pass come out from defence, and hit first time to Totti, who ran in behind Kompany to execute a classy chipped finish. To avoid further such incidents, City had to put a hold on their pressing, and sit deep in 2 banks of 4 to stop the Roman carnival from continuing to exploit the shaky midfield and defence.

As mentioned above though, the introduction of Frank Lampard allowed City to have a bit more midfield cover, and gave them the security and belief to press forward fearlessly. Only 33% of their tackles were successful in the first 60 minutes, but this rate doubled in the last 30 minutes of the match, with City winning the ball back much quicker to put Roma under a lot more pressure.

The highlighted area shows the dearth of final third recoveries from City in the first 60 min. via fourfourtwo.com

The highlighted area shows the dearth of final third recoveries from City in the first 60 min.
via fourfourtwo.com

As the image above demonstrates, City were making a lot of their defensive recoveries quite deep prior to the introduction of Lampard, and there was hardly anything won in the offensive third, easily the best area to win the ball.

City began winning the ball in the offensive third post the Lampard substitution. via fourfourtwo.com

City began winning the ball in the offensive third post the Lampard substitution.
via fourfourtwo.com

The introduction of Lampard made the difference in this regard, and added a dimension to the City attack.

Where does this leave them?

A win would’ve been the ideal result for City, as they probably need 4 points against Roma in order to progress, presumably behind Bayern Munich. With that in mind, they’re probably not looking forward to a trip to the Stadio Olimpico, especially if they need a win going into that game. For Roma, this was a good result, and a well earned one as well. The performance from the Italian side in the first 60 minutes was more than acceptable, and they did a decent job of holding on after Lampard’s entry initiated the assault. The team looks dangerous going into the double header with Bayern Munich, and cannot be written off in the clash by any means. They do have the advantage over City for now, but will want to make gains by picking up points of Bayern in the coming weeks. City and Pellegrini have some serious introspection to do. The Chilean got his tactics wrong on a big night, as his side was left vulnerable in midfield. He’ll also need to work on getting his big stars like Toure and Kompany to show up on the European stage.

Written by Vishal Patel

Vishal Patel

Vishal Patel

Massive Chelsea supporter. Follow Mourinho and love Ronaldinho. Enjoy discussing tactics anytime, anywhere. Enjoy watching the Italian National team as well.
Vishal Patel