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Tactical Analysis: Roma 1-3 Inter | Spaletti comes back to haunt Roma


Cheuk Hei Ho writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Serie A game that finished Roma 1-3 Inter


Roma (4-3-3): Alisson // Jesus, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov // De Rossi, Nainggolan, Strootman // Defrel, Dzeko, Perotti

Inter (4-2-3-1): Handanovic // D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda, Nagamoto // Gagliardini, Vecino // Candreva, Valero, Perisic // Icardi

Roma remains a work-in-progress. Currently, their transfer campaign has not filled the void left by Mohamed Salah on the right flank. In this match, only 7 out of 31 crosses came from the right side where Grégoire Defrel replaced Salah. The lack of attack from the right flank in this game is not surprising, especially since Juan Jesus played as the right back. He is not a regular right back (normally a left back or a center back) and does not have the ability to attack the defense by himself. Moreover, using Defrel as the right winger worsens the situation because he is a striker. Neither players can do what a regular winger or an inverted winger would do. In fact, they did not deliver a single cross to the box in this match. In the game against Atalanta, Roma used Peres as the right back. He contributed one out of the four crosses on the right flank (Roma had nine crosses in that game). The heat maps from these two games show how ineffective Roma’s attacks down the right flank were when Peres, their only player who can attack from that side, is not playing.

Roma may not be able to get the winger (Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City) they want. There are in-house solutions: Cengiz Ünder is versatile enough to play as a winger. Another solution is to play Alessandro Florenzi, who seems to be able to play anywhere on the flanks and in the midfield. He was fantastic last season until he got his double ACL injury. It remains to be seen if he can regain his form. If none of these solutions work out, Roma needs to change their formation very soon, they simply do not have the players to play a 4-3-3.

Tactically, Roma is still playing a similar style as last season. Offensively, their most effective way to attack relies on Edin Dzeko to serve as a target man:

Eusebio Di Francesco has tried to implement some new tactical movements in Roma. For example, Roma used the positional rotation between the striker (Dzeko) and wingers (Perotti and Defrel) to open Inter’s defense:

Movements like the above, where the wingers move into the center diagonally when the striker moves back (or when the midfielders move into the same space) are one of Sassuolo’s signature moves from the last few seasons. However, Roma did not use these moves consistently enough in this match.

Defensively, Roma still has the same weakness they had last season. Roma conceded 12.5 shots per game last season (8th lowest in the league). However, they were only able to maintain the low number of shots because of their dominance in possession (55%, 4th highest int he league). Their shot conceded per opponent’s possession was 8th worst in the league (0.278). This season, their shot conceded per opponent’s possession is 0.279, almost the same as last season. In fact, they conceded more shots per game this season (15 per game compared to 12.5). The reason is that they had a lot less possession (47.7% this season, 14th highest in the league). Their defensive weakness is exposed this season because they cannot hold on to the ball as well as they did last season.

The lines of the defense remain incoherent. Sometimes they are too eager to press and lose their defensive positions. Moreover, their wingers and midfielders (Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan) do not come back to defend. Roma has a problem in protecting their flanks. Generally, in a 4-3-3 formation, the wingers drop quite deep to help the full-backs. Roma’s wingers (especially Defrel) rarely come back and often exposed Jesus against Perisic, something Inter took full-advantage of in the second half. Moreover, Inter’s usage of the two center backs and the double pivot in the midfield presented a problem for the Roma.

When Roma defended in a 4-4-2 shape (with Defrel joining Dzeko as the first line of defense). But Inter could move the ball vertically to the double pivot easily because Roma’s first and second line of the defense left a rather long distance between each other. When the ball reached the double pivot, Strootman and Nainggolan had a hard time deciding whether to press Roberto Gagliardini and Matias Vecino. If they pressed too high, Inter often could find their wingers isolated against Roma’s full back, or Valero in the space between the lines.

Inter won this game because of two tactics.

First, Inter’s almost constant high pressing was very disruptive to Roma’s build-up:

Inter was already the best team in creating the transitional opportunities last season. They generated one transitional opportunity every 13.2 opposition passes, the highest in Serie A. Luciano Spalletti further amplified this strength this season by making Inter playing a high press constantly. In this game, they forced Roma to commit 18 losses of possession in the midfield.

Secondly, with Roma’s weakness in the defensive phase, Inter was often able to generate 1 vs. 1 isolation with their wingers against Roma’s full backs. The substitution of Joao Mario is critical. In Inter’s first goal, it was his press against Jesus that led to the interception and the goal. In the second goal, he linked up with Ivan Perisic who eventually assisted Mauro Icardi. In the third goal, he outmuscled Nainggolan, took the ball and again linked up with Perisic who eventually assisted Vecino.

Although he replaced Gagliardini, Joao Mario played as the central attacking midfielder while Borja Valero dropping back to play alongside Vecino in a double pivot. Joao Mario provided a more physical presence in the midfield. He can also dribble past defenders, a trait that is critical for counter-attacks. Most importantly, he allowed Inter to balance their offense between the two flanks, something neither team could do until he came on in the second half.

In the first half, Inter had very limited combinations on the left flank. Valero mostly operated on the right-hand side and combined very well with Antonio Candreva and Danilo D’Ambrosio. On the left side, Yuto Nagatomo did not attack very often. In the case when Perisic moved centrally, Inter had no players to attack the left flank. Of the nine crosses they had in the first half, eight came from the right side. With Joao Mario’s introduction, Inter was able to attack the left flank. He could play as the left winger in the case when Perisic moved centrally. Moreover, as shown from the second and the third goal, Joao Mario was able to serve as a link between the midfield and Perisic. In the second half, 8 out of Inter’s 13 crosses came from the left.


Read all our tactical analyses here

Cheuk Hei Ho

Cheuk Hei Ho

Cheuk Hei is a freelance football tactics writer focuses on Serie A. He is a lifelong Juventus supporter. He also writes for the Juventus fans blog of the SB Nation.
Cheuk Hei Ho

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