Rudi Garcia has managed to resurrect the reputation of Roma as an Italian powerhouse, with viewers praising his tactical approach in the Serie A. Lee Scott has an in-depth look at AS Roma under the Frenchman, focusing on their flexibility, triangles and the brilliance of Francesco Totti.
There are two types of coaches in this world, those that are content to develop a career either at a single club or at least within a single nation and those that are willing to take themselves out of their comfort zone and push the boundaries of their abilities. Luckily for fans of AS Roma in Italy the French coach Rudi Garcia belongs in the second category.
As a player Garcia failed to make much of an impression despite playing for both Lille and Caen during the course of his career, as a coach though he has gone from strength to strength. Whilst still coaching in France he led a relatively unfashionable side in Lille to a league and cup double and helped launch the careers of the likes of Gervinho, Yohan Cabaye, Matthieu Debuchy and Eden Hazard. Such relative success was always likely to bring with it interest and in June 2013 Rudi Garcia accepted an offer to take charge of Roma in Serie A.
Given the opportunity to test himself in what is still the most tactically innovative and competitive league in Europe, Garcia has thrived and has won the initially sceptical Roma fans over playing a brand of open and speculative football that has seen the Giallorossi emerge as the only serious competition for a dominant Juventus side over the last two seasons. This season in particular the style of play that Garcia has wanted to implement appears to have been more refined and despite notable defeats domestically to Juventus and Napoli and a complete capitulation in the Champions League against Bayern Munich there are still signs that we will see a strong season from Garcia’s men. It’s the tactical characteristics of the team though that make them most interesting.
Flexibility And Fluidity
One of the most impressive aspects of Roma’s tactical setup under Garcia has been their willingness to move in and out of positions and areas of the pitch that would not necessarily be natural for them. They have players like Daniel De Rossi and Seydou Keita that are willing to sit as the base of midfield and drop back in to the defence whilst Miralem Pjanic operates as one of two central midfielders and will move forward to link with the attack, at the same time Francesco Totti will line up either in a free role from the left or as a lone striker and will link back in to the midfield. These players provide a key function for the side as they are constantly shifting position and either creating space or overloading a specific zone of the pitch to stretch the opposition and force them out of position.
Here we can see the Roma midfield three in their default 1-2 setting with De Rossi sitting deepest and collecting the ball from the defence to initiate the attacking phase. With the balance in midfield De Rossi can feed the ball to either of the two central midfielders and they will immediately shift it on in to space. Note too the structural strength shown by Roma in this image as De Rossi is at the apex of two triangles making sure he has four high percentage passes that he can use at any point.
Again we can see the value of having a player like De Rossi that is willing to drop in between the two centre backs and is comfortable doing so. As he shifts deeper to split the defenders Pjanic immediately drops in to the space that De Rossi has vacated and Roma have three passing lanes with only two Chievo forwards pressing high up the pitch. This enables them to build their attacking phase slowly and securely from the back.
This time we see Roma in a more established attacking phase of play having developed a solid base inside the opposition half. This time Francesco Totti is the player that has shifted to create an imbalance for the defence as he has moved from the left of the attack to a pocket of space just behind the strikers but in front of the opposition defence. Cleverly the two advanced Roma players will maintain a high position to ensure that the space Totti is occupying cannot be compromised and that he can collect the ball comfortably.
Triangles And More Triangles
With clever movement and the technical ability to pass the ball quickly through tight spaces Roma are perfectly suited to play what could technically be defined as Tiki-Taka – if a clearly defined idea of what that actually means exists – instead though they play their own brand of attacking football that relies on the rapid construction of passing lanes through triangles across the entire pitch. Seemingly innocuous changes of position only become apparent for what they are when the ball flies from player to player and you notice a matrix of passing and support triangles or diamonds where two triangles join throughout the Roma team. It truly is a thing of beauty to watch.
Here you can see a clear positional matrix across the pitch with Roma players taking up positions to ensure that they can support the attacking movement. As the ball is played from one base to the next there is only one player that needs to shift position laterally to leave one diamond and create another and the opposition are further stretched and pulled out of position.
This is actually moments before Roma score in the Champions League against Manchester City. The easy thing to do since Francesco Totti has already started his run in to an area of space would be to play a direct ball either to feet or over his shoulder to send him through on goal. The fact that the space being attacked is relatively deep though means that it is unlikely that Totti would manage to get to the goal without being closed down and challenged. Instead we saw Roma utilise the diamond and as the ball is shifted in the first instance left to Nainggolan the angle of the through ball was opened up and when the ball is eventually fed through to Totti he is able to advance through to score without being challenged.
The above image perhaps best encapsulates everything that I’ve discussed so far. Roma are positioned in a diamond shape but this time Francesco Totti finds himself at the base of the diamond having dropped deep in to the midfield and Ashley Cole has advanced up the left flank taking the space that Totti had emptied when he moved deep. This again shows just how hard it is for the opposition to implement strong defensive shapes when Roma constantly have players moving in and out of positions all over the field.
The Brilliance Of Francesco Totti
Even since the days of Italian Football on Channel 4 hosted by James Richardson I have been enamoured by the talent of Francesco Totti. He is no longer quite as athletic as he once was but for every yard in pace Totti has lost he more than makes up for it in intuitive positioning and movement. The importance of Totti to Garcia’s system cannot be over stated as he is the player that makes everything work in harmony.
Here we can see Totti showing his awareness of space and more importantly dangerous space. He is aware that the pocket of space that he has just moved in to will force to opposition to alter their defensive shape. Instead of being able to engage and overload the ball carrier with two players one of the two central midfielders will have to cover Totti as he moves infield. The movement from left flank to centre has also created a large area of space that Ashley Cole has already moved in to from left back.
This time Totti has maintained his original position on the left of the attack. It is somewhat natural for an attacking player to be attracted in towards the ball in this situation as he looks to get possession to ideally have a shot on goal. Totti however is tactically intelligent enough to know that he can be most effective if he maintains the wide position and stretches the opposition horizontally creating gaps that the ball can either be played through of carried through by the man with the ball.
This time Totti has shifted from the left hand side of the pitch and having initially moved centrally is now drifting over to the right side. More than any other player in the modern game Totti is constantly seeking space.
As previously alluded to it is clear that results this season haven’t all been as hoped at the start and the domestic defeats to close rivals Juventus and Napoli will prove problematic as the season progresses but at the same time it is hard not to view the season so far as progress. The Roma players are growing more comfortable and familiar with the system that Rudi Garcia has put in place and there are definite signs that Roma are getting closer and closer to mounting a serious and eventually successful bid for the Serie A title. The only question giving his age is whether Francesco Totti will still be around to lift the trophy or not.
Written by Lee Scott